Don’t Hide Behind the Rules

RedShoesOnPotomacJohn Jordan’s red shoes on the Potomac River, with the Kennedy Center in the background.

I just received a wonderful message from a man who appreciates the power of putting yourself out there. And what’s more “out there” than risking a slap on the hand (or worse) to help out a customer?

Read below for a couple great examples of Red Shoes service as experienced by John Jordan, SVP Customer Experience & Chief Customer Officer at Total Wine & More:

I recently learned about the “Red Shoes” experience, and it resonated with me for many reasons, but mostly due to its irreverence and desire to recognize great service. Great service is often the result of a small gesture—one that shows that kindness and humanity can override process, which sometimes causes “the rules” to be broken to satisfy a customer’s needs.

Now, I’m not suggesting that rules which violate laws should be part of a great service plan—serving customers well involves staying within clear boundaries of certain unbreakable rules, but practicing discretion and using good judgment to do what is right is key. There are many great quotes by great people on how it is not only o.k. to break rules, but rule breaking is to be expected.

One of my favorite quotations is from General Douglas MacArthur, who is attributed with: “Rules are mostly made to be broken, and are too often for the lazy to hide behind.”

Last Saturday, on the first real day of spring here in the greater Washington, D.C. area, I had two great service experiences where the rules were broken to take care of the customer.

The first was a rushed trip to the local bank to deposit a check and get cash back for a flea-market shopping trip in Georgetown that afternoon. To complicate matters, my ATM card is lost! I realized halfway to the bank that I’d left the house without my driver’s license, but that turning back would cause me to get to the bank just in time for closing. So, I pressed on hoping I’d recognize someone at the bank who could help. Long story short, I recognized no one, but with some appropriate questioning by the teller, I was able to deposit the check and get my much-needed cash back for weekend shopping. These days, getting anything done at a bank without proper identification can be impossible, but the manager and teller practiced common-sense, and I’m a more loyal customer as a result.

Then later that day with my 16 year-old daughter in tow, I wanted to watch the defending Louisville Cardinals in a NCAA game, and I was dismissed by establishment #1 due to “house rules.” So, in dismay, went to the next bar/restaurant. The bartender there said simply, “It is not busy; we’re happy to have you & your daughter sit at the bar, but please know that at night we normally can’t allow underage patrons at the bar.” Not only was great service rendered, but expectations were set so that I’d not expect that rule-break at all times of day.

Both of these service providers deserved red shoes, as they put the customer ahead of rules, and caused me to tell others about the experience.

At Total Wine & More, there are rules we must enforce. Indeed, “Rule #1” for the whole company is to NEVER serve anyone who is under the age of 21. That rule is law, and compliance is 100%. But, rule #2 is to do whatever it takes to make all customers very satisfied. That is where doing what is right for the customer (Age 21 or older) can and does cause some rule bending.

So, hats off to the Red Shoe experience. Thanks for giving me a new way to recognize the many great people who I encounter in daily life, and for the great staff we have at over 100 Total Wine & More stores across the country!

There really are rules, some explicitly stated and some simply implied, that shouldn’t be heeded when they stand in the way of doing something good. I believe this. Red Shoes Pillar #5 is “Putting Yourself Out There,” and it’s all about making a decision and taking an action that is difficult, uncomfortable, taboo, or frowned upon, because circumstances have made it the right thing to do.

Thanks, John, for sharing!