Empowering Your People for better Customer Service

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Every company and business has a definitive plan and strategy of how they want customers to perceive them. They know how they would like to appear to the market. Customer service is built around this strategy and guidelines are put in place for the kind of words and communication that should be used when interacting with customers. However, sometimes when those communication guidelines become rigid, instead of helping they actually pose a problem when trying to assist customers. A balance must be maintained. How many of us have called up contact centers with a problem that has been responded to with the most nonchalant apology – “I am so sorry that you had this trouble. What would you like us to do”? Seriously! Does that sound remotely helpful or sorry? This rote and un-empathetic manner of script reading is what most customers dislike and find impersonal to the point of being rude. More often than not, these ‘human machines’ are unable to help simply because they are not empowered beyond just the cursory apology.

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It does not have to be or sound like this. Empowering your people will ensure that they provide elevated customer service levels. The service staff is handling customers by the minute and therefore become adept at gauging and knowing what a customer wants when they call. Companies need to invest more in training and coaching for this staff and do away with these self-deprecating and defeating guidelines that in most cases cause more harm and even a little good. The customer service staff would know how to represent and present the company and the brand.
Some companies have discovered the advantages of cutting their employees loose from these guideline shackles and maybe you too can discover how empowering your people with lead to better customer service.

Companies that have grasped the utility of empowerment, provide a high level of autonomy to their customer service staff to enable them to do exactly what the customer needs. This will show the employees that they are trusted and will reflect in the kind of service they extend to the customers. Instead of creating layers and strata of guidelines, rules, dos and don’ts, these companies lucidly list down the standards that they expect their customer service teams to reach and exceed. Once that is established the employees are allowed to use their discretion to help customers in whatever way needed. Guidelines and rules seem completely out of place in this scenario. Trusting and empowering your people will lead to even better customer service that is thought possible.

Empowering your people creates more cohesive and happy teams as everyone feels trusted and no one feels the need to cover their back all the time. Such teams also have more relaxed and friendly bosses who allow their teams enough leeway to deal with customers without rote scripts and long list of rules. A relaxed and flexible team is a happier and more serviceable team. This flexibility is also being expected on social media platforms. The customer service members that are assigned to respond to customers over social media seem to have more discretion in responding to customers and in fact are able to provide better and more prompt solutions since they are practically unbound by the shackles of guidelines. This attitude needs to reflect through all channels of communication.

Customers welcome these changes as it means that they spend less time in trying to get the service agents to begin helping. The empowered customer service agents are able to head right into providing support leading to enhance customer satisfaction. Being able to help people faster and more often makes the job fun and easier. This leads to a cyclic process of better service and greater number of satisfied customers.

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The importance of empowering your people becomes even more apparent when you are a customer in a store or business. Does it not annoy you when you walk in to a store and the first employee you come across seems uninterested, distant, unwelcoming and may even ignore your presence? The impression that you get that the employee is not happy as it may be a terrible place to work at and therefore this is not the kind of company you would like to extend patronage to. There is a direct link between employee morale and customer satisfaction which could either lead to your business being successful or not. Empowering your people therefore, makes great business sense. This is true for all teams and departments irrespective of whether they are interacting directly with customers or not.

Employees are a critical part of the brand and are the face of your business. Employee behavior and conduct reflects the company’s values and culture and disengaged employees will eventually sound the death knell for your company. Conversely employees with a strong sense of belonging and well-being will take on more challenges and be ready to take on more responsibility to make the company successful.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” —General George Patton

So how does empowering your people happen?

– Being a great leader is different from being a good manager. A great leader inspires and works with the team to achieve excellence and success. They nurture employee potential and know when to step aside leaving the team to do what they need to and give their best.

– Spending some ‘informal’ time with the teams makes for inspirational leadership. Employees need to know that they can engage with and reach out to their leader in a relaxed atmosphere. This keeps employees empowered, engaged and productive. Individual team lunches, team off-sites, sitting with members of teams during lunch at the cafeteria and other such methods allow employees to work in a stress free and open environment. It inculcates the feeling of trust and being trusted.

– Allow employees to make independent decisions. The customer service employees are closer to the customers and the action and therefore are better placed to know what decisions to make for better customer service.

– Encourage them to think creatively. There is always a better way to approach a problem or a better solution to be given. Challenging your employees through empowerment will help them seek out better and more innovative ways to service customers. Reward the most innovative methods – this will show your employees that empowering them is a serious matter and using that empowerment productively will have its rewards.

– Conduct ongoing training programs on their area of work and allow them to use the learning in their day to day activities. Invite respected and well-known business leaders to speak about creativity and the power of innovation.

– Allow the teams to resolve their differences or disagreements on their own. Tell them what is expected but do not sit in on these meetings. They are adults and do not need spoon-feeding. Show them that you trust their judgment and that you know that they are capable of finding the best solutions both internally and for customers.

– Small achievements too deserve to be acknowledged. Surprise them with unexpected appreciation and a thank you. Acknowledge individuals in team meetings so that no one feels that there is favoritism as a member of a team will do well only when supported by the team.

– A formal reward and recognition process for great performance is the proven way to hike an employee’s interest and engagement levels. A robust process shows the company’s commitment to empowering its employees to keep raising the bar and contributing to their own and the company’s success.

Empowering your people is a powerful tool. Once a company creates a culture that consistently gives the employees a feeling of being empowered, it is difficult to do away with it. It works like a charm and is extremely motivating and attractive for employees – it makes them feel in control and like they have a say that counts, in the company. Empowering your people pays – big time.

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