You Can Be Right And Wrong At The Same Time

 I’m having a nice dinner with my wife in a small eatery in the City, when a customer comes in carrying a takeout food bag and begins ranting about how the order has the wrong food.  She wants her money back.  The owner looks at the receipt and at the food and sees the order and food match, and says so to the customer.  Things go rapidly downhill from there.

The customer, in typical short-fuse-NYC fashion, goes ballistic.  It doesn’t matter to her what the order says, all she knows is that whatever she had her heart/stomach set on was not in the bag when she got home. So she’s going to find someone to blame and starts yelling that the waitress got the order wrong.  She still wants her money back.

The owner, bristling from the customer’s verbal assault, goes into pride protection mode and reasons that the customer had a chance to check the order and the food when she picked it up.  She accepted it, it’s hers, done.  This isn’t a high margin kind of place, so I’m sure he’s looking at lost profits in that takeout bag.  For all he knows, this woman’s a wacko who just changed her mind and wants something else.

This goes on too loud and too long until one of the other employees looks at the receipt, takes the money from the till and gives it to her.  She then tells the waitress she wants her tip back and departs, still ranting about how long she’s lived in the neighborhood, never been treated like this, blah blah blah.  She also leaves behind a cloud over the collective dining experience of those eating in.

Customer Service Dilemma

This one’s universal. Everyone has experienced the situation where they find themselves dealing with someone who is enforcing some policy literally, and they’re right, except the situation at hand does not fit the context within which the policy was created and enforcing the rules will have unintended and negative consequences, which is wrong.  This is not just a rehash of the overused “customer is always right” mantra.  That’s too simplistic.

First of all, we’re talking about internal as well as external interactions.  Being right and wrong at the same time can also happen in a manager/subordinate delegation scenario.  It can happen in a project team exchange.  It can happen between line workers in the same department.  Anytime someone holds to a policy or rule without listening and comprehending the other party’s position and rationale, you run the risk of taking a negative hit in company image, productivity and/or morale.

The problem is that no rule or policy can cover all possible or unforeseen situations.  There needs to be a defined method for exception handling.  It should allow some degrees of freedom from doctrine for either independent decision making or rapid escalation to achieve an appropriate resolution.  The exception handling methodology can be global, or tailored to each rule or policy as they are created.

Exercising Judgement

Success of a exception handling process hangs on the abilities and authorities of those executing the process.  It’s all about exercising judgment.  There are those who possess and innate sense of what is appropriate in a given situation, and there are those that don’t.  Both cases can be optimized by providing training in critical thinking, situational analysis and human communication skills.  The same root cause analysis skill that are used in process improvement can be applied to understanding the reasoning behind strongly held, contrary beliefs that are impeding progress.  Empowering those likely to be first responders to outlier situations to resolve them quickly with appropriate compromise will return dividends in customer goodwill, morale and overall operational effectiveness.

In The End

There’s a reason why cultures that have evolved a strong value on saving face have also devolved to weak levels of innovation and even governance.  If you worry more about what’s best rather than being right, you’ll make more headway faster.  Putting the energy into finding a quick resolution with some common ground has better overall return.  There’s no point in trying to prove you’re right when you’re being judged as wrong regardless.


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