The Customer Service Survey

When to Break the Rules

by Peter Leppik on Fri, 2012-05-25 12:12

In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency. Federal Aviation Regulations, Part 91.3(b)

Airplane pilots are given broad discretion to break the rules if needed to meet an unexpected situation. This isn't a free pass: part 91.3(c) says that the FAA can demand a written explanation after the fact. But it does mean that the pilot has the explicit authority to (for example) land in the Hudson River no matter how many rules that breaks, if that's the best way to handle an emergency.

Compare this to the recent incident in Florida where a school nurse allowed a student to pass out during an asthma attack because the school's rules prohibited giving him his inhaler without a parent's signature. The school apparently believes that adherence to the parental signature rule is so important that it's better to have an ambulance and paramedics show up, or even risk serious injury or death to the student, than override the rule and give the student a puff from his own inhaler.

Wouldn't this situation have been so much better if the school had its own version of FAR 91.3(b): "In an in-school emergency requiring immediate action, school staff may deviate from any part of these rules to the extent required to meet that emergency."

Most contact centers don't deal with life-or-death situations like these. Nevertheless, a lot of customer service nightmares are caused by a similar blind adherence to policy. Policy is important, but policies are meant to handle ordinary situations and the expected problems.

The problem is that there will always be some crazy situation not envisioned by the policy, and employees need to be empowered to bend the rules when the rules don't apply. It could be a series of mistakes on the company's part, a customer who dies at an inconvenient moment, or a tornado which destroys company-owned equipment.

In those cases the company employees shouldn't feel tied to rules which make no sense. Imagine if every employee handbook began with the following policy:

Employee Discretion: In an extraordinary situation requiring prompt resolution, employees may deviate from any part of these policies to the extent required to meet the customer's immediate need.

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