For more than three decades, I have been developing and providing customer service training programs to clients throughout the world. Empowerment will be my sixth book and 27th training program. “I thought it was important to address empowerment,” he says, “because, even though it is a critical element of customer service, very few organizations actually allow or encourage it. In fact, many organizations don’t even understand what it is.”
I define empowerment as giving employees the authority to make fast decisions to satisfy-and retain-customers. Empowerment is a guaranteed investment. When you allow your employees to take care of your customers, it guarantees that those customers will return to you.
The longer it takes to solve a customer’s problem-whether it be a faulty computer or lost luggage-the more irritated that customer becomes and the less likely he will be to ever do business with you again. The goal, is to allow the employee to solve the problem without moving it up the ladder to a supervisor or manager, costing the organization more in time and money and, quite possibly, resulting in the loss of the customer.
In order for empowerment to work, it must be embraced by employees and supported, recognized, and rewarded by management. Nothing will kill empowerment more quickly than micromanaging employees. If you question every action and decision your employees make, you will never have an empowered workforce.
Many, if not most, managers are hesitant to empower their employees, fearing that customers will take advantage of them and that employees will give away the store in their attempts to solve customers’ problems and retain their loyalty. There might be some situations where employees abuse empowerment, but the benefits far outweigh the downside. One of those benefits is word-of-mouth advertising, as customers tell their families, friends, and coworkers about the wonderful service they had with your organization when your employees solved their problems.
Empowerment brings with it another benefit: job satisfaction. Empowerment creates a positive work environment. When employees are allowed to make decisions without being micromanaged, they feel they are trusted. And, when employees feel trusted and respected, their performance and productivity soar, and turnover drops. Empowerment is about getting employees to take control. The only way to do that is to take the training wheels off and let them ride.
Empowerment doesn’t mean, however, that there are no limits to what employees can do to take care of your customers. There must be parameters, limits on what an employee can do or give to a customer who has experienced a problem with your company. A lobster dinner at no charge for a customer who complains about his steak-after eating the entire meal-is not appropriate. However, a coupon for a free oil change for a customer whose car was not ready on time is appropriate.
Repeat customers are the lifeblood of any business. When you empower your employees to make decisions that result in positive experiences for your customers, you create loyal customers who, in turn, will drive your sales and your business.