What To Do When Customers Don't Follow Your Rules

The airport shuttle bus driver was exasperated.

She had a nice little system, but passengers weren't paying attention. They'd clumsily get in the way, as if they somehow knew better. Didn't they understand that she'd been doing this for 10 years?!

These passengers slowed everything down. Slowing things down was exasperating.

The driver's system was carefully planned. When she picked passengers up, she'd hop out and load their luggage into the bus for them. This allowed people to quickly take a seat without jockeying for position around the luggage rack. It also made sure that she could load the luggage rack just the right way to maximize it's capacity.

It worked the opposite way when she dropped people off. Passengers would exit the bus while the driver quickly off-loaded all the bags. This was much more efficient than everyone climbing all over each other to get to their own suitcase.

If only they'd listen. 

The driver muttered angrily under her breath. "I've been doing this for 10 years. I know what I'm doing. Don't they understand they're just slowing things down?!"

Perhaps you've been in a similar situation where customers don't follow your rules. Here's what to do.

Photo Credit:  TheGabeC

Photo Credit: TheGabeC

Step 1: Question Your Rules

Some rules have no obvious benefit to your customers.

Stop thinking about yourself and your company for a moment. Shove aside what's convenient for you. See your rules through your customers' eyes.

Rules that don't directly and obviously benefit your customer are less likely to be followed. 

The shuttle bus driver didn't realize this. What seemed convenient to her seemed inconvenient to her passengers. That's because passengers don't care about the fastest way to load and unload the entire bus. 

They care about the fastest way to get themselves on and off the bus. 

You have two choices when rules don't obviously and directly benefit your customers. One option is to change or abolish the rule. That usually works just fine, except for situations when you can't because of a compelling reasons like regulations, safety, or fairness.

If you can't change the rule, then go to step 2.


Step 2: Clearly Explain Your Rules

Some rules aren't clearly explained.

Customers get confused easily. They don't listen when you want them to listen. They don't pay attention to what you think is important. 

That's because they have other priorities.

Passengers on the airport shuttle bus were worried about getting to and from the airport. They were anxious about their flight or getting to their rental car. Following the bus driver's unique system wasn't on their mind.

A lack of explanation caused problems for the bus driver. Instead, she literally snatched suitcases out of people's hands and said, "My way works much better." She sighed and muttered to herself at the slightest hint of resistance.

This felt confrontational. 

The shuttle bus driver would have been much better off if she had spent more time communicating her rules to passengers. She could have engaged people one-on-one by saying, "I can take care of your bag for you! Just come on board and make yourself comfortable!"

She could have made a warm and welcoming announcement on the bus's public address system to inform everyone that she'd be happy to unload everyone's bag for them, while explaining people would save a little time and trouble in the process.

Sometimes, a clear explanation is enough. Other times, you need to do more.


Step 3: Make Your Rules Easy to Follow

Rules can be difficult to follow.

Some aren't intuitive. Others are inconvenient. In some cases, it's tough to follow the rules when everyone else isn't.

Having rules that weren't easy to follow caused problems for the shuttle driver. Just think about what people normally do when riding an airport shuttle bus. The driver's rules went against the grain of what people were used to doing.

When a typical airport shuttle bus pulls up and opens its doors, people naturally file onto the bus and look for a place to stow their bags. Most people enter via the side door that's halfway down the bus because it's nearest the luggage rack.

That meant that by the time the driver got out of the driver's seat and started enforcing her rules, people were already herding themselves onto the bus and doing exactly what she didn't want them to do.

Of course, that brings us back to #1, where she might realize her rules weren't absolutely essential.


Putting It All Together

The airport shuttle bus driver is just one example, but her situation was instructive. Above all else, she got stuck seeing things through her own point of view and refused to look at her rules from her customers' perspective.

Think about situations in your own business where customers don't follow the rules.

  • Can rules be abolished or changed?
  • Can you explain rules more clearly?
  • Can you make it easier to follow the rules?

These fixes can go a long way towards getting your customers onboard.

Minimum purchase requirements for credit cards

Do you know companies are not allowed to require a minimum purchase for Visa or MasterCard transactions? I learned this yesterday after a disappointing experience at my local produce market (conveniently called "Produce Market"). I drive by it nearly every day and often tell myself to go in there and load up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Yesterday, I finally got around to it and dropped in.

What I liked
They did indeed have a great selection of fresh produce and reasonable prices. The store had a straight-forward layout and was very easy to quickly navigate. I was feeling pretty smart as I browsed their selections since I had finally made the decision to do some shopping there.

A Heaping Dose of Surliness
Apparently, customers must accept a heaping dose of surliness in exchange for that fresh produce at low, low prices. The two employees I encountered were unfriendly and declined to say "Hello", "Good Morning", or offer any other form of commonly-accepted salutation, even after I said "Hello" to them.

What I did get was a scolding from the cashier who rang up my $7.98 sale. I handed him my credit card and he pointed to a sign that said "$15 Minimum Purchase Required for Credit Card Transactions". "I'll let you use your credit card this time, but please remember a $15 purchase is required to pay with a credit card in the future."

That Rule Is Against the Rules
My encounter at Produce Market left me a bit disappointed, but also curious about those minimum purchase requirements. These policies are very unfriendly to customers and I had heard they may actually be a violation of the merchant agreement with Visa and MasterCard. So, I looked it up and yes, these policies are a violation of the merchant agreement.

You can verify the rule for yourself on this page of their website.

They bury this information on page 2-22 of their merchant rules manual, but they do offer a handy complaint form you can use to zing your least-favorite non-compliant merchant.