By Gordon Hecht

Every organization needs some set of service guidelines to operate cohesively. These rules are normally set by the organizer or owner, based on their own belief systems.

James Cash Penney believed in the Golden Rule and ran his first store following the “Do unto others…” principle. Richard W. Sears and A.C. “Curt” Roebuck believed in “Satisfaction guaranteed.” In the early days, no customer was ever disappointed.

As organizations grow, sometimes those original beliefs that formed their culture get diluted or misdirected. Policies are codified and enforced (ever hear of the Policy Police?), and employees are trained to follow, obey and never cross the rules. Soon the kind of warm and fuzzy goodwill that James Cash, Richard W. and A.C. built their businesses on is washed away.

But occasionally, when policy loses sight of its original goal, the rules must be bent, if not completely broken. Case in point: Restrooms.

New York City is home to 8 million people and nine public facilities, and once while shopping with my bride in the Big Apple, nature called. A sign in the store read “No Public Restrooms,” a common site in the city. But I figured I’d give it a shot and asked the cashier where the closest public restroom was. She very politely said, “We have a private room for staff only, but I’ll let you use it.”

Policy was ignored, and rules were shattered and crumbled to simple guidelines, all in the name of good customer service.

Whether your retail empire consists of one location or dozens, I realize you need to have documented rules and an action plan for customer and employee interactions. It’s much easier to say “no” without having to assess a situation than to gauge the circumstances and say “yes.” But providing guidelines, and allowing your team flexibility in applying the rules, can be the difference between three-star and five-star customer service.

Saying “yes” may mean exchanging a pillow because it was uncomfortable, or delivering outside your normal area or time frame.  It may mean moving an existing mattress to the basement for a customer or completing a service call just to plug a power base into the outlet behind the bed.

Give your team the power to say “yes” or at the very least “I’ll check” when it comes to creating or saving a sale. As long as it is ethical and legal, make life easier for the people who travel to your store and your website. Start with a “Mom-clean” showroom, offer sanitary, well-supplied restrooms, provide an online interactive chat feature, and end with umbrellas at the door to walk them to their cars in the rain.

Stick to guidelines and beliefs, and err on the side of the shopper, and you too might become famous for great customer service, like your retail forebears.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. You can reach him at