Behind many great customer-service stories is a front-line person who went outside standard operating procedure to solve a customer problem. Now this practice has its own name: Customer-Oriented Defiance.
In “Customer-Oriented Defiance [COD]: Exploring Righteous, Sacrficing and Sneaky Behaviours,” co-authors Cheryl Leo and Rebekah Bennett of the Queensland (Australia) University of Technology comb existing sources and do first-hand research of their own to flesh out the phenomenon. Leo and Bennett show that it is not a completely altruistic practice, nor always (or even primarily) beneficial to the companies involved.
Yet it’s clear from reading this paper, and backed up by my experience, that exceptional customer service doesn’t happen without front-liners (the most vulnerable staff in the company, the least paid, often the least respected) stepping out and taking some personal risk by addressing a customer problem in a non-standard way.
In the past, management has been able to avert its eyes and allow this to happen without explicitly sanctioning it (a pretty shameful practice when you get right down to it). But, with auditing/control technology on the rise, it will be harder for COD to occur without a paper trail, increasing the risk that stepping outside the lines, even “righteously,” will be caught and punished. (See this post on the benefits of lighter access-control policies.)
Which means that exceptional customer service will become even rarer than it now is - unless leaders recognize that some processes are art rather than science, including customer-service processes, and provide lighter constraints that reflect the values of the business, the worth of the customer and a respect for the judgment of the front-line employee.
After all, just because you can audit and control something, doesn’t mean you should.
Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mindaugasdanys/3408621659/