In a world of "no," just say "yes"

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Saying "no" is easy. When customers have non-routine requests, employees have plenty of reasons to turn them down: It's against policy. The system can't handle it. The employee isn't authorized to do it.

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Such excuses often are prefaced by a startlingly sudden disassociation of the employee from the company he or she represents: "I'd like to help you, but…"

And no wonder. With budgets tight and margins squeezed, many companies continue to demonstrate a willingness to abuse customers through bad profits, ratcheting up nuisance fees and restrictions that produce short-term income at the expense of customer relationships. Why should an employee who has witnessed such behavior stick his own neck out to please a customer?

Fortunately, a growing number of companies recognize the opportunity to distinguish themselves with service – to be a company that says "yes" in this "no" world. But the standard policies, procedures and point-of-sale systems needed to run any large company efficiently still make it difficult for employees to say "yes."

TD Bank is an example of a company that has recognized and tackled this challenge. It trains customer-facing employees to satisfy any client requests that don’t violate the bank’s policies and reinforces this with a "1 to say Yes, 2 to say No" rule. The goal is to find a way to say "yes," even if it requires a creative solution. When employees can't say "yes" without breaking the rules, they must seek guidance from a supervisor. They can’t simply say "no" and move on to the next customer.

Sometimes TD Bank says yes before its customers can even ask the question. As Hurricane Sandy was battering the East Coast, TD Bank said it would refund overdraft and late fees for customers affected by the storm. It also expedited the delivery of debit and credit cards, and allowed customers to access their certificates of deposit without penalty if they needed the cash.

"We hope to play a small part in alleviating some of the financial challenges that come with a natural disaster of this magnitude," explained a TD Bank press release.

Many companies took similar steps in the wake of the storm—it’s the decent and sensible thing to do. But TD Bank doesn’t just say yes when customers need to hear it most. It makes it a policy to do so all the time, building the kind of loyalty that's likely to weather any storm.