I don’t normally complain about customer service. If service is bad, I just don’t tip as well as I normally would, or don’t go back. But recently I have become so irritated by an issue that I have complained twice. And both times I got the same excuse, “…we don’t like it either, but it is corporate policy”.

After hearing that excuse for the second time within a couple of months, I was fired-up. I decided I was ready to go on-line and find a number or email address so I could contact the corporate office. It was time I let them know how much their policy is making customers upset.

Now, 24 hours later, I am wondering why should I waste my time to try and help them realize how their policy stifles their store’s ability to deliver customer satisfaction. Then I realized how timely this was considering that Brad Feiler, Mike Westra and I have all blogged about very similar issues in the past few weeks.

When it gets late, or I am in a hurry, I go through the drive-thru at the local fast food restaurant. (Hopefully my doctor doesn’t read this, because he has been on me to lose weight for a long time, and fast food is strictly forbidden.) I know I shouldn’t do it, but sometimes I have to and I feel guilty about it. I imagine many of their other customers feel this way too. So why would they do anything that makes the experience less than pleasing on purpose?

Several weeks ago I drove up to the menu/speaker to hear “Welcome! Would you like to try a fruit and maple oatmeal? Please order when you are ready”. So I start to order, and then I hear “Sorry I didn’t get any of that can you please repeat your order”.

At this point I asked the person why had they told me to ‘order when ready’ if they weren’t ready to receive an order. They informed me that it was corporate policy to play that recording… even though they are often not ready. I thought it was a stupid policy, but let it pass, and repeated my order. A couple of weeks later I returned, and remembering the problems from my previous visit, I paused for a minute or so when the recording finished. Then I asked if they were ready to hear my order.

Last night I returned for the third time. We were in a hurry trying to get food and get back home in time to watch a TV show that was about to start. As soon as the recording finished I gave my order, and when done I hear, “I am sorry can you please repeat the order I didn’t hear it”, I said “This really makes me (cleaned up here for the blog) angry. Every time I come here, you ask me to order when I am ready, but you are never ready”.

When I got around to the second window, a manager handed me my food and said she had heard the exchange over her headset and wanted to explain that it was corporate policy to play that recording even though they are usually not ready to take the order at that time. She said, “Myself and many of the other employees hate that and know how frustrating it is for the customer, but it is corporate policy, and they make us play that message”.

In the competitive market of fast food business, I cannot image any corporation would set a policy to possibly annoy so many customers. I don’t know the true root cause of the problem, and I don’t know if it is a corporate policy or an internal store issue, but I was not happy. Not knowing if this really was a corporate policy, I called the 1-800 number from their website and talked to someone who verified that she gets this complaint almost every day, I suggested to just remove the ‘order when ready’ phase and have them say that part live. She seemed to think it was much more complicated than that and there was a hardware type issue with the system (I don’t even want to go there).

I could see the manager truly wanted to fix the problem, but felt her hands were tied. I understand the importance of standardization to ensure the quality of the food that is prepared and served, but to standardize things that are obviously an annoyance to the customer is wrong.

I think that manager would have gladly given me a number to the corporate office with the hope that my complaint could get the policy changed. To me the sad issue was the reality of her fear of doing it herself. Or her fear of incurring corporate wrath by just ignoring the policy for her store. Why is she afraid to step up and get the policy changed?

If their corporate culture was customer focused, don’t you think suggestions to fix these types of problems would be eagerly accepted? Fear or perceived fear is a characteristic that unfortunately affects too many companies. I remember Jack Nicholson’s line, “You can’t handle the truth!” and how fitting that line can be when used to describe many in leadership roles.

For a customer centered culture, you must learn to see the truth and correct any issues that you find, not bury your head in the sand and ignore it. Every employee must feel empowered to make suggestions and raise issues without fear of repercussions. In fact, they should be rewarded and encouraged to do so. Then, maybe someday, I can get a quick meal without becoming upset.