One theory and five steps to improve your customer service

Early in my career I worked in the office of a specialty retailer that had an “exchange only, no refunds” policy. Without getting into the reasons for the policy – probably it was misinformed and certainly out of step with consumer expectations – one only needs to know that after every Christmas there was an inevitable deluge of phone calls from unhappy customers or gift recipients. Almost always, the local store manager had gone eleven rounds with the customer already and it fell to me to hear the appeal and then do my job by making the customer forever unhappy and unlikely to ever shop with us or recommend our business.

Occasionally, the customer was so persistent that I’d capitulate and arrange for a refund check to be sent. Or even worse, sometimes we’d direct the store managers to issue refunds, ensuring that they would lose face, having just defended, nearly to death, the company’s policy.

The basic idea is that when you make people feel restricted in some way, they want to rebel against that restriction because they feel like you’re threatening their freedom and autonomy.  —

How much more enlightened we all would have been if we had understood the psychological theory of reactance. This article does a nice job of explaining why people rebel when they sense they are being restricted, resulting in defensiveness.

Companies need rules and procedures to avoid chaos. Following the recommended steps in the article will help breakdown the tendencies of reactance and perhaps lead to compromise or at least better acceptance of constraints.

– Frederick Welk, CEDF business advisor


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