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Company Policies Fall Flat As A Pancake With Customers

My kids and I decided to go to McDonald's the other morning for a late breakfast. It was a rare and welcome break from the daily cold cereal grind.

We got into the drive-thru line at 10:25 a.m. but by the time we pulled up to the loudspeaker to place our order it was 10:30 a.m.

"I'm sorry, we're stopped serving breakfast," said the voice coming over the loudspeaker. The breakfast menu rotated and disappeared from view as if it had never existed. I'll admit that for a few seconds I wanted to go all Adam Sandler on the employee.

But I was nice about it, even though my young kids started crying in the backseat when they realized the hash brown wasn't happening. Instead of spending around $10 on food and drinks, we left without ordering anything. There were five cars in line behind us, and I wondered if some of those people were hoping for breakfast, too.

Why do you do this to your customers, McDonald's? I understand that you have to switch up your production schedule to meet the lunch rush but your customers just want what they want, and what they want at 10:31 or 11:01 in the morning is an Egg McMuffin or a pancake. They don't want to be told they have to order lunch because it's 10:30. Besides, the 10 to 11 a.m. hour is still firmly in morning territory, and who the hell eats a Big Mac at 10:30 in the morning, anyway?

Then I read a news story about a Minnesota man who went to a local store to have an ink cartridge refilled. The employees refused to refill it because he didn't have a "special sticker" on the cartridge or a receipt in hand. The customer got very angry and threw landscaping stones that broke a few store windows.

The customer was wrong to lose his cool but why would the company enforce a policy like this in tough economic times? We're enduring the worst recession since the 1930s. Companies are hurting for business, but the policies they enforce are making it hard for customers to buy from them.

The poor economy has created a price-conscious consumer with a shorter fuse and less mental bandwidth for bullshit. Americans are dealing with enough crap simply trying to get or keep a job and stay afloat. They're looking for companies that help them solve their problems, not companies that create more problems. And doesn't every company say it's in the business of solving the customer's problem?

American consumers deserve a break today, pun intended. They don't want to deal with obstacles such as online passwords that don't work, having to show proof of purchase for add-on services or being told they can't have the grande cheeseburger after 2 p.m. The policies and procedures that worked so well in 1999 don't work as well in 2010. If you're a small company that wants to stay in business, that is.

I can't help but wonder how much money companies are losing by sticking to their pre-recession rulebooks. McDonald's most recent sales numbers show breakfast is the company's biggest profit center: a full 40% of its operating profits come from sales of its breakfast items. That's a hell of a lot of McMuffins. Imagine if McDonald's scrapped the 10:30 cutoff and sold breakfast items 24/7, or served a limited menu after 10:30 a.m. featuring a few of its most popular breakfast items. Imagine if the ink refill company said it would refill ink cartridges without requiring a "special sticker" or a receipt. I don't know about you, but I hear the sweet symphony of sales growth. Let the music play!

The smart managers will revisit company policies to see how they're creating barriers to purchasing for the customer. They'll ask employees to point out policies that frustrate customers and keep them from buying the company's products. They'll know where the company's main profit centers lie and they'll make sure company policies make it as easy as possible for customers to keep buying. Along the way, they'll make life easier for their stressed-out employees, who won't have to deal with as many angry customers.

So come on, companies. Make it easier for your customers to buy from you, okay? It'll be a win-win for both sides, I promise.


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