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Pandering to rule-breakers defeats greater customer service objectives

Amid COVID-19, mask wearing has become a huge political football. As a matter of common sense and exercising critical thinking skills, wearing a mask is not about politics. It’s about our health collectively, and about showing respect for the health of others. Period.

Now that many retail corporations are adopting mandatory mask-wearing policies previously instituted by such companies as Costco, the question remains: Will those unwilling to wear a mask be permitted to continue shopping?

I recently visited Costco, and everyone I saw was wearing a mask! Straightforward, clear policies lead to consistent compliance.

To test the waters a bit, I contacted two King Soopers store managers last week on that very issue and got less than clear feedback. In fairness, the state mandate had just gone into effect and King Soopers’ own policy goes into effect tomorrow.

Their news release states in part, “Starting July 22, we will require all customers in all locations to wear a mask when shopping in our stores, joining our associates who continue to wear masks. We are taking this extra step now because we recognize additional precautions are needed to protect our community.”

The release continues, “We respect and acknowledge that some customers, due to medical reasons, may not be able to wear a mask (small children are exempt). We encourage those customers to consider an alternative option like a face shield or facial covering. If they’re unable to wear a mask or an alternative design, we request that they use our ecommerce services like pickup or delivery.”

Strong, clear direction. However, as we all know, the devil is in the details. If, at the end of the day, non-compliant customers are allowed to continue shopping in-store, they are prevailing to the detriment of all the rule-following customers. To me, this would constitute continuation of a policy that has prevailed for far too long in too many corporate environments.

To avoid antagonizing even one rule-breaking customer who may file a complaint or lawsuit or stop shopping at that store, the tendency has been to mollify and look the other way. In the case of an uncaring customer putting 50 items on a 15-item lane belt to the detriment of all the compliant folks behind, it’s highly annoying.

In the case of mask wearing, it’s much more. It’s about protecting and showing respect for the health of others. That’s much more than an annoyance. It’s a public health issue. And it deserves enforcement with teeth—as Costco has done.

I strongly feel that the positive customer service value to the overwhelming number of mask wearers far outweighs losing a few angry, non-compliant scofflaws.

It will be very interesting to see how this new policy plays out in a variety of retailer stores, including King Soopers. I know this much: If I go into any of these stores and see substantive non-compliance, I will be the disgruntled customer looking for another store. And I’m guessing I will be far from alone.

Besides the obvious health implications, seeing non-mask wearers in environments where they are mandated adds to already over-the-top stress levels.

I want to shop somewhere like Costco, where I know and see that they’re enforcing their policies.

It’s time to stop pandering and start protecting. That’s where caring customer service can make its most poignant statement right now.

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Customer service isn’t one-size-fits-all. While there are some policies that merit universal application, such as listening to and acting upon customer concerns in a caring and substantive way, preferences can vary considerably. What do companies do to best identify what most customers want and expect, understanding that not everyone will be happy?

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Mark Lusky | 303.621.6136 | mark@marklusky.com

Veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage. Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

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