Dumb Policies Are a Lose-Lose for Companies, Employees, AND Customers

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Mar 19, 2015

This week, our postal carrier delivered a controversial piece of mail to the house.

The mail was addressed to a man whose name I didn’t recognize, but we’ve gotten mail that wasn’t ours before, so I didn’t find that to be terribly unsettling.

What set the alarm off in my head was the sender, which happened to be the Pennsylvania State Police.

The kind of letter you don’t want to wrongly get

Now, I’m a law-abiding citizen who’s had very few legal troubles, and I’ve certainly never been involved in any criminal matters. Still, letters from the cops scare me. Sue me. It’s a black thing. (Or, at any rate, it’s MY black thing.)

So, despite once being warned by my (then teen-aged) son that it’s illegal to open someone else’s mail, I opened this letter. (Ironic, no?)

The letter stated:

Dear Mr. XYZ:

Please use this correspondence as confirmation the Pennsylvania State Police Megan’s Law Section has received and processed your sexual offender registration information…

Uh, not exactly.

Trying to get help (?) on the phone

So I call the number in the letter, and I tell not-allowed-to-reveal-her-last-name-and-no-employee-ID-number-Kim that my husband and I have been the owners of the house at _____________, for nearly 20 years, and no one named XYZ lives here or has ever lived here.

After asking me my name, the offender’s name, my address, and what the letter says (twice) Kim says she’ll take down the information and send it to the police.

“But wait!” I say. “What about the address? Can’t you change it? I don’t want someone Googling my block and finding that a sexual predator lives here!”

But alas, Kim’s job is done. “He’ll have to go into the system and change the address,” she tells me.

“He who?” I ask. “You mean the sex offender?”

Yes,” Kim says evenly. Then she waits.

I suddenly get the feeling Kim’s been down this road before.

Powerless and pissed

I say to Kim, “But that’s ridiculous! He submitted the address to begin with! Why would he change it?”

Kim tells me that Mr. XYZ has committed a crime by submitting false information.

“Yeah and?” I say.

Well, he could go to jail.”

“Go to jail? The state doesn’t even know where he is! And I guarantee you he ain’t living here.” (Then I make a mental note to go online and make sure Mr. XYZ isn’t an alias for my double-life-living husband. So sue me. It’s a wife thing.)

Kim says, “Look, I’m just telling you what the procedure is.”

I pause. “Well, OK. Can you put someone else on the phone to tell me a different procedure? Because this one makes no sense.”

Kim says I’ll have to write my local Congressperson and lobby for a law change.

All that Kim? Really?

Kim sighs. “Listen, I’m not saying I agree with the procedure. I’m just telling you what it is.”

Thanks, Kim. We both hang up.

It’s not Kim’s fault

I’m not mad at Kim. Kim’s just the messenger. Plus, I got the distinct impression Kim would have preferred delivering different news. And, although I doubt it, perhaps there are good reasons why a sex offender is being allowed to hijack my address until he’s good and ready to release it.

What I’ve no doubt about, however, is feeling helpless and stupid in the face of this asinine policy, and I’m pretty sure Kim wasn’t having any fun, either.

That’s the problem with dumb policies that hamstring employees. Customers want their troubles resolved, but it doesn’t happen, and everyone gets frustrated in the process.

(Plus, did I mention a sex offender is on the loose?)

Where do dumb policies come from?

Look, I know this is the government we’re talking about, and a certain amount of inefficiency is to be expected. Still, the government doesn’t have the market on dumb policies. There are plenty of dumb policies to go around.

In my experience, dumb policies are created when:

  • Management doesn’t trust “regular” folks (i.e., customers and non-managerial staff) to intelligently problem solve. OMG! Do you know what would happen if we let those people figure stuff out for themselves? We’d have anarchy. Anarchy!
  • Company processes haven’t kept up with technology. What? You say you need a voided check to process my direct deposit? Well, all my banking is done online, and I don’t have any checks. Now what?
  • Somebody is too prideful or stubborn to fix what’s broken. Like they say, hindsight is 20/20, and sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Still, that’s no excuse for failing to act when you DO know.
  • Those not directly affected by the policy don’t care how it affects anyone else. So what if a customer called you all sorts of interesting things because you couldn’t help him. It’s the job! Handle it.

Short-sighted actions

Sadly, these are all short-sighted ways of thinking that ultimately cost companies money, time, emotional labor, and goodwill while causing employees and customers alike to rethink their willingness to remained affiliated with said companies.

It’s true, for now I’m stuck with my local government (and Kim may be stuck with her job).

However, most companies don’t have that kind of insulation from competition. And so, whenever I encounter a really dumb policy, my tendency is to move on (and surely I’m not the only customer who’d say the same?), because I don’t like dumb policies.

Dumb policies waste my time and make me feel dumb, and I hate that.

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