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For $5, I bought a watermelon at a small upscale Italian bakery/deli near me where I buy just-baked bread every week. When I cut into my watermelon, it was more white than red and was filled with the whitish ropy strings we are used to seeing when we carve pumpkins. I threw it away.

The same day I bought that watermelon, I bought two pint-sized containers of raspberries for $5 at a large grocery store near me. When I opened them the next day, some of the raspberries were moldy so I tossed them all. The next time I went to those stores, I reported my experiences, said I had no receipt, and asked for a replacement. One store gladly replaced the unsatisfactory fruit and the other refused.

Which store gladly gave me a replacement?

Most would guess the small store, and so would I – most of the time. In this case, the big store replaced my fruit and the little one didn’t. The head cashier of the little store said I should have brought my receipt and the watermelon back to prove my story. Prove it, I asked? She said the reason she would not give me another watermelon was because I could easily be making up the story. To steal a $5 watermelon, I asked? Wouldn’t it more customer-friendly for you to assume I’m not a thief, replace the defective watermelon, and ask me to please bring back my receipt and a photo next time I had a problem?

She lectured me about why policies are important things to have. My emails to the store and to the owner telling this story were ignored. You can easily imagine I no longer shop there.

At the big market, I told my story to the guy in the produce section

He apologized and told me to put two more trays in my shopping cart along with my other groceries. I asked if I needed a note or something and he said no, just tell the cashier what you told me. The very nice lady at the checkout line said with a lovely smile that she was sorry I had the problem and was glad to replace the spoiled raspberries at no charge.

Which policy does your company use when handling problems?

The best customer service comes when those in charge give front-line workers the authority to accommodate customers within prescribed limits. Leaders like this understand:

  • Most customers are honest.
  • You can’t make a rule for every little thing.
  • Heavy-handed policies are relics of the Dark Ages.
  • If you can’t trust your front-line employees to make a $5 decision, you need to hire some new people.

How much freedom does your company give employees in deciding how to handle small problems?

If it’s none, see what you can do about it. While you’re thinking about it, here is Mongo Santamaria’s Watermelon Man, Latin Jazz from the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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