A rule is a rule, right? In customer service, it isn’t that simple. Anyone who’s been the recipient of a bent rule knows the power of an empathetic customer service rep. Bending rules can buy increased customer satisfaction and a strong sense of loyalty. As a manager, how can you communicate to employees when it’s OK to bend the rules — and when it isn’t?

Giving them a grid for how to respond to disgruntled customers can empower your customer service staff to make the best choices for how and when to go above and beyond. Empowering your reps to bend the rules goes beyond turning an occasional blind eye to their acts of kindness. In fact, you should reward them when they use good judgment and make thoughtful exceptions.

This line can appear ambiguous, though. How can you empower your staff to decide when it’s OK to bypass policies to meet or exceed customers’ needs and expectations? Here are three questions you can ask employees to determine when it’s best to bend a rule:

1. Did they make your customer feel cared for?

The main reason a company will lose a customer is because the customer didn’t feel cared for. In our technologically driven world, fewer customer service interactions take place in person. That makes a memorably positive experience more crucial than ever. As many companies begin to utilize CCaaS, or contact center as a service, you need to ensure your customers feel seen and valued. That includes when they’re being helped through a phone or chat service. Sometimes, bending a rule is what it takes.

Reward your staff when you can tell they bent a rule out of a genuine desire to make customers feel valued. The small gesture of bending a relatively inconsequential rule can go a long way. That’s even truer if the customer knows that an exception was made just for her. The gesture will make her feel special and can often more than make up for the initial complaint. A customer service rep who can determine the right time to make small concessions deserves praise for retaining customers. After all, the goal is to leave them feeling happier than when they started.

2. Did they make a cost-effective decision?

Most rules exist to save your company money. However, discuss cost-effective methods for breaking rules that may have a small upfront cost while saving money in the long run. For example, what if a customer wants a refund for a completed service because his quality expectations weren’t met? Assuming his expectations were reasonable, the potential future value of this customer could outweigh the cost of the refund by a long shot.

Studies show that attracting a new customer is six to seven times more expensive than retaining an existing one, so it’s ultimately more cost-effective to spend the small amount of money appeasing a disgruntled customer. In addition, if this customer walks away feeling like your customer service reps took good care of him, he’ll be more likely to tell others about his positive experience.

Encourage your reps to offer the occasional discount or freebie when a customer seems especially disgruntled, even if this isn’t your normal procedure. Help them to think about the potential outcomes and the cost-to-reward ratio in these types of situations. The small price of an extra service will often reap the enormous reward of a satisfied customer.

3. Did they win your customer’s loyalty?

Excellent customer service is the No. 1 factor for deciding a customer’s level of trust with a company. When your customer service staff can give your customer an excellent experience and meet her needs, they’ve helped forge a stronger, longer-lasting relationship between your company and the consumer. This trust grows when a customer knows that her needs will be met and provides an incredible value to your company.

Chip Bell, a customer service consultant, writes, “Loyal customers, they don’t just come back, they don’t simply recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you.” This type of customer is the best kind for your business. He doesn’t just happen to buy your product, waiting for something better to come along. He actually believes in your company, pays attention to his positive experiences, and tells others about them. Customer service reps who can spot instances when bending a rule will yield this kind of return deserve to be commended for the value they bring.

These questions can help you create clear expectations for your customer service staff. Of course, you still have to have rules and guidelines, and you still have to enforce them. But give your employees a grid for interpreting when it may be best to bend those rules. Empower your staff to make independent and creative choices that benefit the customer and the company. As your staff is given the freedom to make these kinds of decisions, they’ll in turn feel a higher level of job satisfaction and loyalty to the company. What more could you ask for than loyalty from both sides?

Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.