Customer Empowerment through Empowering Employees


Dr. Sudhanshu Singh
B.E., MBA, Ph.D
United Institute of Management

Giving great customer service can be a very difficult task. This is a true statement. However, it isn't impossible. Treat your customers as you would want to be treated in the same situation and you will find the key to giving quality service to your customers

Great customer service means happy customers, the kinds who remain loyal to your company for their entire lives and demand that every person they know patronize your business. They're your best advocates, giving your company the word-of-mouth advertising and buzz you couldn't buy with a thousand ads. But happy customers don't just materialize out of thin air. Happy customers are made by happy employees.

So how do you get happy employees, the kind would willingly bend over backwards to help a customer? While there might not be a nice, clean cliché to handle that situation, there is an easy way: empower them. Give your employees the power to take care of the customer and they'll go out of their way to do exactly that. If your employees have to track down a manager any time they want to do what everyone involved knows is right the right thing to do, your company's customer service will never be anything more than mediocre.

Of course, empowering your employees means giving up some of your control and actually trusting the people you pay to be the face of your business, an idea that many business owners despise. It also means instilling a sense of pride and ownership in the company in those same people, and those factors go a long way toward making them want to go that extra mile when it comes to serving the customers.

Empowering customer service representatives requires that you assume you have hired competent, intelligent people who want to do an excellent job. It is important to recognize that they need your support and confidence in order for them to do an excellent job. Arming them with the training, education, support, and tools to do their job effectively ensures their success and the success of your company.

When a customer calls to complain, they are typically angry, upset, and frustrated. Resolving their issue on the first call is critical to retaining them as a long-term customer and this requires that your customer service representatives have the authority to make decisions on the company's behalf. You have to trust them to make appropriate decisions within the guidelines prescribed. Representatives need to feel and act like business-owners and assume accountability for outcomes.

Empowering customer service representatives is a key to success in today's world. Time constraints are driving customers to seek immediate resolution to issues. Retaining current customers is a company's top most priority and the customer service experience contributes heavily to that goal.

Give your representatives the tools, training, and support they need to succeed. You'll find that everyone benefits when you trust them to do their jobs effectively!

There are a few critical strategies to empowering customer service representatives and making them feel like business-owners:

1. People learn at different paces and through different means. Be sure that you have a comprehensive training program consisting of interactive training tools. It should include classroom, computer based, and on-the-job training, as well as a testing/skills assessment. Problem-resolution should be a core training program in any customer service environment. Assigning a mentor once the representative is fully trained is advisable and usually results in better quality of service immediately.

2. Ensure that your training includes a thorough overview of the products or services and an understanding of the "customer experience" in using the product or service. Include training on the sales process so they have a complete picture of the customer experience. This will enable them to better visualize the problems when they arise.

3. Recognize that your customer service representatives may make mistakes as they are gaining experience. Allow them to learn from these mistakes and support, train, and guide them where needed. But don't reprimand and degrade them for mistakes! Only when performance is an issue vs. an "honest mistake" is it necessary to begin a performance plan.

4. Scripts are important but allow them to be "human". Relationship management is critical in the customer service environment.

5. Give your representatives guidelines and rules, but allow flexibility. They need to have authority to make decisions based on the specifics of the issue

There should be guidelines for financial concessions or product replacement decisions that they are allowed to make. Trending of performance data and resolution of issues can be evaluated for any abuse of the flexible guidelines.

6. Provide them with "give-away" that they can use discretionally for customers based on the nature of the complaint. This will go a long way in retaining valued customers. If they have authority to issue a $10 credit or gift card to the customer, you'll have a happy customer who is most likely a loyal one.

7. Reward and incentives to your representatives based on a combination of call center metrics and customer satisfaction ratings. Using metrics alone does not encourage the behavior you are seeking which is 100% customer satisfaction. Quality and quantity are a balancing act and representatives should be rewarded for effectively managing both.

8. Publicly recognize high performers and let the entire staff know when an individual has done an exceptional job. This will encourage similar behavior among the rest of the team.

9. Routinely solicit their input and feedback on how to improve and enhance the customer service experience. They are on the front-line and they have the most knowledge of what customers are seeking.

10. Systematically provide them with feedback on what they are doing well and where they need to improve. Don't hesitate to praise them for a job well done! If they are not performing as well as expected, identify development training programs for them and establish a performance improvement plan to support their growth. Most employees will take advantage of this opportunity to succeed!

Customer service jobs are very demanding jobs. They require great people skills. When you find a good customer service rep, treat them like gold. There are only so many people that are truly skilled to handle some of the tougher customers in a way that satisfies the customer and the top dogs in the company.

Giving your staff the training and information they need to serve the customer better is just common sense.

1. Customers want to be treated with respect. This means don't talk to the cashier in the next lane while ringing up a customer's sale. Talk to the customer. Make them feel at home. After all, everyone goes home again.

2. Be accurate. There is nothing more irritating to a customer than to realize after they have already gotten home that they were charged too much or they didn't get enough change back.

3. No matter how upset a customer gets with you, keep an even temper. An angry customer can usually be calmed down if you are calm with them.

4. Go above and beyond what is expected of you. If a customer is a little slow at getting their money out of their wallet, don't roll your eyes at them. Patience is the key. You have your entire shift to wait, don't worry about the small stuff.

5. If you are ever in doubt, call a manager for help. It is better to do that than to have the customer get more upset than they already are. Better yet, it can also keep them from getting upset in the first place.

6. Managers, don't let your staff be abused by the customers. Customer service people should not have to be yelled and cussed at. Let them know that they don't have to deal with that. If a customer gets that out of hand, your employee should know that they can come to you so that you can handle it. In the instance of a call center representative, they should be allowed to hang up if the customer refuses to calm their language down a bit.

When you trust the people around you to do the job they are supposed to do it makes things flow much better. There are no log jams at the register, or customer service, and fewer angry customers. It frees up management to manage and it makes others feel good that they are valued, and they are able to step up when the time calls for it. Customers feel better too, because they know that they will get quality service regardless of where the employee is

Dr. Sudhanshu Singh
B.E., MBA, Ph.D
United Institute of Management

Source: E-mail April 29, 2010


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