crazy things companies do #2: let hr policies drive away customers

March 1, 2010

in crazy things companies do

karen works in the post office four blocks from my house. she’s an institution in my neighborhood. she’s friendly. informed. incredibly patient. she has a brother, and loves prince and roller coasters. i don’t visit her often, but when i do, it’s always a pleasure.

the reason i know so much about karen is because her slot at the homely post office is chock-a-block full of her personality. there’s the photo of her at dorney park, screaming while on a rollercoaster. the purple needlepoint tissue cover with prince’s emblem. another photo of her and her brother hamming it up with celebrity wax figures. and many other personal effects.

and truly, i’m not so daft as to enjoy going to the post office. the lines are agonizingly long and the environment—excluding karen’s cheery spot—miserable. but somehow, karen rises above all of this. every day, day after day, she stands within her carefully crafted haven and guides mail-challenged people like me (should i send it certified, express mail, insured mail, or registered mail?!) to the right solution—no more, no less. and amidst the anger and irritation that accompanies any post office experience, she maintains a level disposition i’ll never know.

if you were her boss, what would you do: cheer her on? instruct her to train others? give her a raise?

here’s what her boss did. he told her to clean up her act. literally. box up that tissue cover. strip down the walls. pack away those photos. seems the policy manual frowns on personal effects as unsuitable décor for a government institution.

i don’t visit karen anymore. turns out what made visiting her worth the extra blocks and the wait was her flair. now i visit the independent competitor a half block from my house, the one that never has a line, lets me drop off boxes and, if i’m in a hurry, come back to pay when it suits my schedule. they call my house when they receive a package for me and provide other concierge-like services that help me get over the premium they charge.

imagine. all this time i added hassle to my life because of karen’s uniqueness.

here’s the point: we think our hr policies affect only those within the company’s walls. but these policies also create barriers between companies and their customers, stripping them of that little sumthin’ sumthin’ that keeps customers coming back.

ciao, karen. tell your boss it was real.


Leave a Comment

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Hebert March 1, 2010 at 9:32 am

great post – you should tell your new found postal home about karn – maybe they will hire her away and everyone can win!


fran March 1, 2010 at 10:42 am

perfect. employees who go all out to do excellent work and make personal connections with customers deserve a great home.



Adrian Swinscoe March 2, 2010 at 6:44 am

Hi Fran,
Seems that a lot of organsiations miss the fact that branding is an internal as well as external activity and that if you miss the internal part then it can have an impact on their customers.

Great post,



fran March 2, 2010 at 8:59 am

hi adrian,

this manager probably thought he was doing the right thing, or at least things by the book. it speaks to the need to communicate very clearly with employees (at all levels) about the organization’s intent so they have the understanding to apply discretion when discretion is warranted.

thanks for reading,


Paul Smith March 4, 2010 at 1:29 am

It is just so annoying when policies serve only one purpose: strip away the worker’s personal identity. This would not surprise me if this was a policy derived from a focus group.
A good friend told me once he wasn’t allowed to have water at his desk. He worked in the public eye & it might be construed as offensive. What’s offensive is that policy makers have nothing better to do than make up this crap.


fran March 4, 2010 at 9:14 am

wow. water = offensive? explain that to me.



Myth October 21, 2015 at 6:42 pm

Christina and Jay,the preview pghoohrapts look fantastic we can’t wait to see the full collection.You two were a joy to work with complete professionals in everyway. We had a fab time with you looking forward to that dance session!Elaine and Graeme.


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