You have to empower people to make decisions independent of you. As I’ve learned, each person on a team is an extension of your leadership; if they feel empowered by you they will magnify your power to lead.
– Tom Ridge
I have worked in a customer-facing role for many years. The one thing that undermines true customer service focus is when employees are not empowered to focus on doing what is right for the customer.
This is not my first rodeo. I completely understand that processes and procedures must be created and followed in order to ensure consistency in operations and the customer’s experience. Having said that, leaders must loosen up a bit.
Take a deep breath and realize that when your employees have the flexibility to make decisions that promote customer loyalty, everyone wins.
The best example of this is Zappos. Employees are provided a wide latitude to give refunds if they feel that doing so will keep the customer bonded to the organization. Sales reps have the freedom to send flowers or handwritten notes or cookies just as a friendly thank-you or follow-up. Does all of this work for them? Well, Zappos made Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For four years in a row. In 2009, Amazon bought Zappos. Its revenues were reportedly one billion-plus. It has created its own School of WoW, where students go to learn the secret sauce of what makes for a truly branded customer experience delivery model.
Sounds like to success to me.
The idea is that organizations and the leaders who they hire find it difficult and even unsettling to allow employees this type of decision making, but this is exactly one the key elements to engaging the employee to do good work and to put in discretionary effort.
Personally, as a long-time leader and follower, I find it profoundly liberating to let go of any control I might want to have on my teammates who meet the daily needs of customers. I make it a practice to meet with my teammates one-on-one often. This practice helps me to know what is on their minds and what aspirations they have.
I find that we are all happiest when we are doing what we were meant to do and doing our best work for the customer with limited distractions. I choose not to be that distraction.
Let’s all commit to taking the first steps toward creating an empowered workforce that can be free to deliver on the missions and visions posted on the walls, on the intranets, in the newsletters and professed in meetings.
One idea is to work with employees to create a set menu of options they can choose from in order to help them impress customers, but will not totally “break the bank.” Provide a monthly “allowance” to make the transition a little easier.
What matters is using each interaction with a customer to build a customer-service brand, to let our reps shine in each interaction. That way, we’re creating a moment, a memorable and favorable experience, and yes, that does bring customers back for more.
Many organizations may never reach Zappos’ revenues. Relatively few will make it on the Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For list. Nonetheless, an organization does have a choice whether or not to take off the handcuffs that many employees are forced to wear and allow them the freedom to deliver on brand promises and truly delight and pleasantly surprise each and every customer every time.
Have fun empowering!!