Customer Experience

Rules are Made to be Not Strictly Followed

A couple of things happened over the weekend that made me wonder about rules. More specifically, they made me wonder about why rules exist and how strictly rules should be enforced. Let’s look at these two stories and see if we come to the same conclusions.

How I scored a free bus ride.

On Saturday, my fiancée and I attended a wedding (not our own). By a miracle of convenience, the reception hall was a 10-minute bus ride from our humble abode, and the reception included an open bar. This meant neither of us had to worry about driving or finding a ride home, we could simply take a bus that ran until 2am.

And so, shortly after 1:30 in the morning, the two of us stumbled out to the bus stop and caught our bus. I have a monthly pass, so I walked on as usual, but when la fiancée went to pay her fare, the bus driver stopped her and told her not to worry about it. I’ve never seen this happen before, and I’ve been taking buses in Ottawa for over ten years. The rule has always been pay your fare or get off the bus.

Why did he break this rule? My working theory is that the driver saw two young-adults making the responsible but unusual decision of taking a city bus home from a wedding in the early hours of the morning, and decided to mark the occasion by breaking a rule and saving us a few bucks. More on this in a moment.

How I spent half an hour at the airport.

On Sunday, I went to the airport to surprise my parents with a ride home. Their flight was delayed… for about two hours. So to kill a bit of time, I thought I’d grab a drink at the bar (yes, the day after the wedding; no, I don’t have a problem).

I sat down and ordered a gin and tonic. When it arrived, I realized that I didn’t have any cash on me and began digging through my wallet for my credit card. The bartender told me not to worry about it, and to just let him know when I’m ready to pay. I was a bit surprised here. Usually the rule is that the barkeep brings you a drink and you either hand him some cash or start a tab.

He didn’t know if I had any means to pay for my drink. In fact, he completely left the bar for about ten minutes to make a club sandwich for another patron. I could have nonchalantly up and left if I were that type of person (I’m not — I watched a bit of baseball, and paid for my drink when I got up to leave).

Why did he break the order-your-drink, pay-for-your-drink rule? Because it was convenient. I was fumbling through receipts and business cards, and someone else had just ordered a meal. Why make the hungry gentleman wait for me to sort out my payment details?

Let the over-analysis begin.

The first point I’d like to make is that both cases were great examples of good customer service.

On the bus, the driver likely recognized that I take the bus frequently on account of my pass, and may have deduced that I talked my date into taking the bus home. Maybe the bus line wants to encourage wedding-goers to benefit from its services, or maybe the bus driver just wanted to make our ride memorable so that we would tell people about it (mission accomplished). The price of a single fare on this one rare occasion was a small price to pay for those goals.

At the bar, the bartender managed to please two people by not requiring me to pay for my drink immediately. He trusted me, even though I was a total stranger. He had no idea that it was my first time at the Ottawa Airport Bar and Grill, or that I had a blog and might mention it in passing. He was just doing his job, and making a positive impact on his customers.

The second point I’d like to make is that this sort of behavior is probably actively discouraged (and that sucks).

I seriously doubt either the bus driver or the barkeep would have broken their respective rules if “the boss” had been watching. It’s way easier to enforce the rules (all passengers must pay, no exceptions! all drinks must always be paid for immediately!) than it is to flexibly provide great service.

I’m not going to say this should be actively encouraged, as that could get chaotic very quickly in both cases, but every once in a while a situation presents itself where it’s ok to break a rule or two. It makes the interaction feel more human, and we like that about it.

And the final point I’d like to make is this: are there any rules you strictly follow that might be ok to break every once in a while?

1 reply on “Rules are Made to be Not Strictly Followed”

You overlooked the fact that it’s quite possible that I looked awesome in my cocktail dress. By 1:30am after an evening of drinking, I seriously doubt that was the case….

Also, bartenders regularly let you order a drink without paying right away. Otherwise you would either have to start a tab, or pay on a drink by drink basis, which is just annoying.

I like this post! :)

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