Rules or compassion? What to choose when it comes to customers?

Rules or compassion? What to choose when it comes to customers?

  • 16 July 2020
  • By Our Subject Matter Experts

Yesterday, while purchasing groceries from a nearby store that I visit once in 15 days, I had one of the most disappointing experiences of my life.

While I entered the store, I saw - that the social distancing marks and precautions are being taken care of well, new rules are formed and being implemented through the directions and posters at the entry gate. Amid the chaos, confusion, and ambiguity, people are behaving at the best of their levels, helping each other with finding and picking up articles that are on higher shelves, they are letting the older ones get their billing done first and so on. Everything seemed very positive despite the ongoing anxieties and worries in their hearts. A great deal of humanity was still seen along with strict adherence to social distancing.

So, what happened that made me (and perhaps the others around the billing desk) so upset?

Well, we all know that to make it easier and faster for customers, grocery stores make separate billing lines as per the number of items purchased. People with lesser items (say 15 or less) have a separate line as compared to those with 20 or 25+ items. While I was at the third number from the lady who was getting her groceries billed, I suddenly realized that there was some issue at the billing counter. The lady (who seemed 55 years or so), inadvertently entered the line of 15 or lesser items with about 19 articles in her trolley. It seemed that mistakenly she entered the wrong line and now pleading with the cashier to bill the remaining 4 essential items as an exception.

How would you react in this situation of crisis when a 55-year-old lady pleads with you to let her buy the essentials for her family and keep the rules aside as an exception for her?

Ideally, you would let her buy the groceries as it is already very risky and painful to buy groceries during these tough times and remind her to follow the rules next time she shops from your store. Isn’t it?

Well, the cashier did just the opposite of it. He did not just refuse to bill the remaining four articles for her, but also asked her to take the trolley back in another line and get all the items billed again. Stating – “Rules are rules, and these are common for everyone”.

The woman politely apologized and requested him to let her buy the remaining items, but he again refused bluntly.

The woman busted into tears and asked the people behind her – do you people think this is right? It is just about a couple of things…

While she was trying to pick up the items and move out of the line filled with lots of disappointment, the man behind her barged in and offered to buy the remaining items for her. He bought the items, handed over the same to the lady, received the balance amount of about Rs.500 from her, and headed towards the exit saying to the cashier – it is better to overlook the rules sometimes, at least when you are dealing with older customers.

A small act of concern and having compassion for people is not a bad thing. I understand that rules are important, and they are there for the common good of people. But we must not forget why rules are made. Rules are made to make our lives easier and not difficult. While the simple transaction of adding 4 more items and billing the same would not take more than 7 minutes, the whole argument wasted about 15 minutes in total. In addition, this stubborn act of the cashier made the store ruin its reputation, lose customers for life, and upset the people who have been loyal to the store for years.

People, in some or the other situation, may always ask to mend the rules for their benefit. But how fair is it to let people burst into tears in the name of rules? Can’t there be some exceptions?

These types of situations demand – the use of common sense and compassion, which makes your customers keep coming back.

When it comes to organizational culture, the same kind of customer-focused decision-making is expected.  When not present, organizations are likely to move away from innovation, and creativity.

This is the time to be more customer-centric, empathetic, and caring towards your customers, especially during these testing times.

For more than 20 years, we have been coaching people at all levels and helping organizations improve their performance at the individual, team, and organizational levels. We focus more on changing behaviors that result in organization-wide transformation and culture building.

I hope this article could help you find a way out while dealing with your customers amid times of crisis.


Yogesh Sood

This blog is an adaptation of a recent blog written by Patricia Overland on 12th May-

Have similar questions? Submit your queries directly to Mr. Yogesh Sood at -


Yogesh is the founder and CMD of BYLD Group. BYLD is the largest group in the South Asian region, offering value-added services in HR, Leadership /Organizational Development, Business Operations, Manpower Staffing, Technology, and Executive Coaching. He leads the board of Indian operations of Blanchard Research and Training, Door Training and Consulting, VitalSmarts (LCPL), YOMA group, and Aspectum Consulting, Finland. These organizations have expertise in complete organizational development and performance enhancement solutions, including Consulting/Training/Coaching. Yogesh is an alumnus of Harvard Business School and College of Executive Coaching USA. He founded the first ICF (International Coach Federation) chapter in South Asia in 2015.