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Using Clear Policies to Drive Better CX

Avoid Making Rules That Confuse Customers, Create Friction, and Introduce Enmity

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Customer experience policies are rules that cover product returns, changes, warranties, refunds, and access to information and resources, and are used by companies as they interact with their customers. With goals such as increasing efficiency and reducing friction at stake, these CX policies should be up-to-date, reasonable, and carried out consistently across every scenario and buyer persona.

Indeed, some of the most frustrating experiences a customer can have revolve around encountering a company policy that is unclear, confusing, or contrary to the company’s image or mantra. You do not want to have a situation where something like a relatively simple product return or exchange causes friction with your customers, making it difficult for them to make a purchase in the future. Some of the key points of friction that arise include the following:

Exclusions and caveats

Exclusions and caveats are major sources of friction. By telling a customer, “Here’s our policy,” and then listing several things that essentially negate that policy leaves the customer confused and frustrated, and may cause them to believe that the policy is designed solely to benefit the company, not the customer. Examples include policies that indicate that all products are returnable within a 21-day window, and then listing specific items that are not returnable, without explaining the reasons why, or having inconsistent raincheck policies.

A better solution is to frame the policy in a positive manner, listing the types or categories of products that are returnable, and providing concise reasons why certain product types are not covered by the policy (e.g. swimwear cannot be returned due to health and hygiene concerns).

Change fees

Life happens, as the phrase goes, and customers are often annoyed when they are charged a fee for making a change to a reservation, ticket, or product order. While there certainly is a cost associated with making changes to orders (particularly if it involves the physical creation of a product, or the start of a complex process), customers feel mistreated when these fees are applied, because the fees essentially are a penalty for a customer changing his or her mind.

One way to alleviate the issue is to incorporate a short grace period during which changes can be made, which will vary based on the product or service offered. By clearly delineating a reasonable time frame in which changes can be made without a penalty, it establishes a better rapport with the customer that considers human behavior, while still supporting the real-world realities of running an efficient and profitable business.

Loyalty program changes

Another key point of frustration involves loyalty or club programs that are revised solely to benefit the company. These revisions can include raising specific customer purchase metrics to achieve certain status levels, changing the terms of the program to reduce benefits to members, or otherwise diluting the value of the program. All these aspects directly contradict the real value of loyalty programs, which are to engender a sense of loyalty and affinity to the product or service.

Making changes to these programs may be required, due to economics or changes in the way the business is structured. However, it is important to explain the rationale behind the changes, and offer other benefits of comparable value to the customer, which can demonstrate that the customer and their loyalty is still highly valued. It also may be wise to consider grandfathering benefits to existing members, and then introducing changes for new members, which allows the transition of loyalty benefits programs without alienating longtime members.

Policies with a weak or no underlying rationale

Customers are often frustrated by policies or fees that appear to have little underlying rationale or reasons for their existence. For example, when airlines began to implement checked bag fees, customers were upset because previously, the cost of checking a bag was included in the cost of the ticket. Moreover, it was seen simply as a revenue grab by the carriers, since there were no additional services added (such as real-time bag tracking or expedited or red-carpet service provided as part of the fee). As a result, customer opinions of airlines fell.

Another example of a policy that had a relatively weak rationale is the ban on bringing outside food into a sports stadium. Back in 2003, the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team had just opened its new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, which was largely publicly funded. The team announced fans would not be able to bring in any outside food, even for their own personal consumption, with then team president Joe Banner citing post-9/11 security concerns. However, amid significant outcry over both the ban (which was seen solely as a way to force patrons to purchase expensive food in the stadium), and the use of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a rationale, the team relented, and reversed its decision on the so-called “hoagie ban,” though fans bringing their own food were required to use separate screening lines when entering. The ban and its subsequent reversal generated national headlines, and made the Eagles, its ownership and management, and, by extension, the NFL, look like they were anything but fan-centric. 

Ultimately, the key to instituting good CX policies is to consider the direct impact on the customer: Does it increase customer friction? Will it create a level of enmity that didn’t exist before?  If so, consider restructuring policy changes so that any negative impact to the customer because the policy is offset by a benefit that will truly be valued by the customer.

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