When Emotions Don’t Match the Situation, Hide Behind Policy

By Matt Penney, CAPP

Baylor Parking Services has a heart for service.  Staff greet customers with a smile and a hearty hello, Texas style–say howdy to everyone.

As friendly as our office likes to be, there is a phrase that we use that sets a boundary for our customer service efforts.  “When emotions don’t match the situation, hide behind policy.”  The phrase is intended to be a clear trigger for when to change our approach to an encounter.

In “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell refers to this instinctual recognition as “thin slicing.”  Experienced staff won’t be able to explain why a specific encounter is different, but it will be a gut instinct.  Something is off.

Until this mystery is resolved, slow the interaction down.  Go into a mode that strictly follows your policies and procedures.  This protects your staff both legally and emotionally.  It also provides time for underlying issues to reveal themselves.

This semester, Baylor was surprised to find out a student was living out of their car.  In another instance, we learned that a towed car belonged to a federal agency based in New York and the driver may not have informed their supervisor the vehicle would be used to help their daughter move to Texas.

The unusual emotion is not usually anger and the underlying issue is not always bad. Good customer service is rooted in understanding a customer’s needs. When staff recognize that a typically successful course of action is producing an atypical reaction, hit the pause button. This mismatch of emotions to a situation mean you need to get more information before proceeding.

Matt Penney, CAPP, is director of parking & transportation services at Baylor University and an IPMI industry trainer.