How to avoid 'policy override purgatory'

Dave Koshollek
Publish Date: 
Jan 14, 2014
By Dave Koshollek

WE JUST PASSED the busiest season for product returns. Hopefully your dealership handled yours with a style and consistency that developed stronger customer relationships -- much like a recent Amazon product return did ours.

My wife and I had purchased a juicer and used it very little over our four-month period of ownership. We realized that the blender we had worked fine so the juicer just sat idle. I had intended to give the appliance away, until my wife said she'd be willing to make one call to Amazon for a possible refund. To our amazement the Amazon representative who answered the phone authorized the return and the entire transaction was handled smoothly in five minutes or less – cool!

In contrast was the experience during that same month with our satellite TV provider. We had been paying for my mother's satellite service at her residence. When Mom died in October, we called the provider to discontinue the service at just her house. That's when we were told we'd have to pay an early termination fee of $140, even though the service at our own home would still be in effect. This made no sense, so we protested.

Over a two-day period, my wife was transferred to no fewer than five different company representatives to plead our case. The last rep finally told us he would "do us a favor by waiving the early termination fee this one time.”

Create a policies and procedures playbook that incorporates guidelines for the return, refund or replacement of goods sold.

We can learn from these two experiences. The good example was the excellent service Amazon provided when we realized the product we purchased wasn't needed. The rep knew his company policy and had the authority to process the refund on the spot. As a result, we will continue to shop at Amazon and spread the good word to others.

In contrast, the policy override purgatory the satellite provider put us through was so distressing during my wife's period of mourning that I look forward to the day when we can switch providers and take our business elsewhere. Reflecting on these two experiences reminded me of the numerous times that dealership staff  have told me they are unsure of their dealership's policies and procedures and most have little authority to process them at the counter.

Policies for returns: A 'silver linings' playbook
Taking cues from the book, Empowerment Takes More than a Minute by Blanchard, Carlos & Randolph, the first step to a smooth customer service operation is to develop policies with staff. The second is to create boundaries of empowerment.

I suggest that dealerships create a policies and procedures playbook that incorporates guidelines for the return, refund or replacement of goods sold. This should include guidelines for the warranty of goods such as used vehicles, parts, accessories and gear and consumables such as batteries, lubricants, surface care products and tires, along with service labor, if applicable. Warranty terms should include whether a receipt and original packaging is required, warranty period limitations, product condition and specific policies on sensitive items such as helmets that probably should not be resold due to the safety and liability risks.