The Golden Rule in customer service

John Parker
John Parker

The Golden Rule Store opened in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1902. The family clothing outlet’s location might not have been recommended by modern real estate developers based on market statistics and demographic data. It sat, wall-to-wall, between two saloons.

But James Cash Penny saw the opportunity and went for it. Today we know that first Golden Rule Store as JCPenney.

The store’s original name was a testament to Penney’s approach to customer service. He made it a priority to treat customers the way he would want to be treated.

Eventually, Penny and his team drafted seven core principles to guide the company’s customer service and named them “The Penney Idea.” More than 100 years later, the values of The Penny Idea are still very relevant. They are:

  1. “To serve the public, as nearly as we can, to its complete satisfaction.”
  2. “To expect for the service we render a fair remuneration and not all the profit the traffic will bear.”
  3. “To do all in our power to pack the customer’s dollar full of value, quality, and satisfaction.”
  4. “To continue to train ourselves and our associates so that the service we give will be more and more intelligently performed.”
  5. “To improve constantly the human factor in our business.”
  6. “To reward men and women in our organization though participation in what the business produces.”
  7. “To test our every policy, method, and act in this wise: ‘Does it square with what is right and just?'”

They still sound fresh, right?

Now measure “Does it square with what is right and just?” against last fall’s Wells Fargo scandal in which the bank fired 5,300 employees when it was discovered they’d opened 2 million phony accounts without customer authorization since 2011.

Those accounts earned the bank unwarranted fees and allowed Wells Fargo employees to pump up their sales figures and make more money.

This external and internal customer service fiasco could have been avoided by adhering to The Penney Idea. During the debacle, it was reported that some whistleblowers who refused to cooperate got fired leaving their careers and lives in ruins.

It was so encouraging and refreshing for me to recently facilitate a retreat for a rapidly growing lending company. Its mission is to help community members become homeowners. Many of our discussions centered around avoiding deals that prove unsustainable for the customer.

When asked about profitability, one of the company leaders reiterated the importance of sustainability, of making sure the clients can truly handle the loan.

He finished by firmly declaring, “If we treat our customer fairly and well, the profitability will follow.”

It was inspiring to watch the managers and leaders nod in enthusiastic agreement.

Clearly, they were encouraged by their leader’s ethics and character. I was too, as I saw The Penny Idea still living within that leadership team.

Even though they may have never heard of it per se, such golden ethics are written in the heart and universal. To harden our thinking against them can spell disaster, as in the Well Fargo disaster.

The Golden Rule comes in many varieties but always with one balanced customer service message: serve others as you wished to be served.

The late Steven Covey called it “Win/Win…a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Win/Win means that agreements or solutions are mutually beneficial, mutually satisfying.”

How can The Penney Idea be freshly applied in your customer service approach?

John Parker is a customer service expert with Professional Development Adventures and an instructor for the UC Davis Center for Human Services. You can reach him at [email protected]



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