Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Rules for Bad Customers Is Bad Customer Service

Business Policies

The other night I had just returned from a trip and was hungry. I wasn’t sure what I wanted for dinner, so I went to the refrigerator, opened up the door, and stared into a somewhat empty box. Other than some beverages and condiments, the “fridge” was pretty much empty. I thought about what I wanted for dinner and I didn’t feel like having a pizza delivered. Instead I felt like something much healthier; a big, thick, juicy hamburger and fries. Okay, not so healthy. But since it wouldn’t be delivered, I would try and be a little bit healthy and walk to a local restaurant and order it to go.

I walked in the restaurant and asked to place a to-go order. “No problem,” said the hostess – until I ordered the hamburger and French fries. By the way, I must tell you that this restaurant has one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted; big, thick and juicy – prepared just right. And it is very reasonably priced, which is one of the reasons people like to order it. I was then informed by the hostess that they no longer do carryout service for their hamburger. About that time the manager came over and heard what was transpiring. He gave me the following explanation:

“We no longer offer our hamburgers as a carryout item. We had a customer come several times and order a lot of them at once. We decided at that point not to have that item available as carryout.”

I was surprised. This restaurant prides themselves on customer service, but they just informed me of a very bad customer service decision. It wasn’t that they decided to not make their hamburgers available as carry out. It was that they made a rule based on one customer’s bad behavior.

After all of that, there is a happy ending to the story. The manager could tell I was disappointed. I offered to sit down at the bar and eat and said to him, “It is disappointing that you would punish all of your customers because one customer took advantage of you.”

He thought about it and said, “You’re right.” And he sold me a burger and fries to go. He also told me that I could order it as carryout anytime.

So, here’s the lesson, and it’s a good one. It’s important to have standards, and in some cases policies – oh, how I hate that word policy. So, consider this:

Don’t make a rule because just one or two customers (out of hundreds or even thousands) abuse your system. In other words, don’t penalize all of your honest customers for the sins of a few.

Okay, the word sins might be a strong word, but I think you get the point. Make your rules for good customers, not bad ones.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker and New York Times bestselling business author. For information contact (314)692-2200 or For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXV, Shep Hyken)

  1. Don’t get the reason behind the decision at all. I mean “We had a customer come several times and order a lot of them at once”. shorly if you’re selling anything one customer ordering lots of it is what you want.

  2. Many times those of us in business make a ‘policy’ for our convenience and really don’t take the time to stand in the shoes of those for whom we are making that ‘rule.’ So, I would suggest ‘standing on the other side of the counter’ and then listening to our rule or policy and see how I might react to that decision.

    Quite often that ‘policy’ made for our convenience will become an albatross and damage our relationship with those we have chosen to serve.

    Thank you for your reminders on great customer service!

    • Agree. I often ask a client if they have ever personally mystery shopped their own businesses. That’s different than looking at a report of someone who did it for them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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