Too many rules: what the Corona crisis teaches us about Customer Experience

The police are asking for clear rules. But the population is slowly becoming tired of rules. The COVID-19 epidemic teaches us something about human behaviour. And from that we can also learn lessons for Customer Experience Management.

The principle is clear: don’t come near each other, so that we don’t infect each other. And if that’s not an option: stay in small groups with always the same people – with your housemates, for example. In a compartmentalized population, the virus spreads less quickly.

But principles give little hold. People want rules. Exactly how much distance should we keep? May I visit my lover? And how far may my walk lead me from my home?

Perverse effects

This demand for rules seems justified at first sight, but it leads to unintended effects.

It started with the announcement that events with more than a thousand participants would be postponed. Suddenly organizers announced that their event would take place anyway – with 999 participants. Interviews on this subject in the newsreel stunned many. And when the government announced that pubs would close at midnight, they were suddenly full for lockdown parties – until 11:59 pm.

Gradually, more rules came and existing rules became more precise. We’re not allowed to make unnecessary trips, but of course we’re allowed to take a breath of fresh air: walking, running and cycling are allowed. But can we also roller skate? That is not entirely clear. Can a couple that doesn’t live together have contact with each other? And is an adolescent allowed to visit his sweetheart? Even if she still lives with her parents? And so you can ask a question about each individual situation that has to be answered with a new rule.

The police in particular are asking for clear rules. Because then it’s crystal clear who they have to discipline – or fine.

More rules – less effect

In the last few days the accusation sounds that the rules have already been changed eight times. That is due to advancing insight: our virologists learned along the way that the virus survives quite long on some surfaces – like benches in the park. But the rules change mainly because we need a rule for every situation. In that sense, the accusation is quite unjustified. First we ask for clarification of the rules, only to blame the regulators for making too many of them.

As more rules come, we become tired of rules. Certainly if we get the feeling that reason is being lost. Like when Belgian Minister of the Interior De Crem announced that cycling trips of fifty kilometres were no longer allowed. Does a cyclist who rides 51 kilometres cause so much more damage than someone who rides 49 kilometres? And why is it forbidden to play basketball on a square alone? Or sitting on the grass twenty metres away from other people? How many people do you infect with that?

If the rules seem arbitrary, resistance will arise. Since De Crem’s statement, the question has appeared in the newspapers as to whether the rules are legally valid and enforceable. And that makes it harder for us to comply with them.

The speed makes it visible

That’s also what happens in our companies. Only much slower. And it has a detrimental effect on the Customer Experience.

It starts with simple principles. But you have to interpret them. People ask for clear rules, then there is no discussion. That’s why a manager spends his entire budget every year. That is not always necessary, but he has it. Doesn’t he use it? Then he’ll get less next year. And what if he wanted to use the money the next year for a project that significantly improves the Customer Experience? Then he can’t because that’s not how it works.

When there is a directive for each specific part of the service, the customer should call back for his next question. Because the customer service agent only has six minutes for each customer. And these are used up for his first question.

Even well-meaning rules miss their effect. For example, a customer receives an answer to his complaint within three working days. Because that’s how it should be according to the Customer Experience rules. And does that really help the customer? That seems to be of minor importance. Because the employee is accountable for the speed – and not for the quality of his response.

And in the end, there are so many rules that employees don’t see the point of, that they creatively bypass them. But without the boss noticing.

Why do we need the COVID crisis to realise that?  Because the speed with which these things happen makes the effect stand out. The rules are changing fast.

But the principles? They remain unchanged. Stay away from each other. Flatten he curve.

Maybe we should learn to deal with principles.