Most organizations understand the basic truth that even the best customer service strategies can be derailed if customer-facing employees don’t do their part. Your workforce is the lifeblood of the company and your primary point of contact with consumers. Employees can make the company, the product and the customer experience look fantastic—or not. When service suffers, the challenge isn’t in deciding how valuable your employees are, it’s determining why your employees aren’t executing the customer service strategy you’ve laid out.
All too often, bad customer service is written off as apathy, laziness or an unwillingness to comply with company expectations. That may or may not be accurate but the reality is that these problems are usually symptoms of a different issue entirely—a lack of employee empowerment. If the people you hire to interface directly with customers don’t have the authority or the resources to ensure a positive customer experience, it’s virtually certain they won’t be able to deliver superior service. Conversely, if an employee is put in a position to succeed and meet the customer’s needs at every touch point, your chances of maintaining a contented customer base increases exponentially.
All of this begs the question: How does one empower their employees to the point that they are positioned to deliver excellent customer service? It’s an imprecise science that varies depending on your company, product, industry and a host of other factors. However, there are a few employee empowerment strategies that transcend industry, product and the like:
- Authority — The first thing you must evaluate to ensure customer satisfaction is that your employees truly have the ability and the autonomy to provide the best service possible. At Nordstrom, for example, the service is fantastic largely because employees have the power to serve the customer as best they can. Their official return policy is “We don’t actually have a return policy,” meaning the employee has the latitude to make a determination and provide the customer with the best service possible.
- Training — You won’t provide the best possible experience for your customers if you haven’t provided excellent training to your employees. A well-trained employee will feel comfortable, confident, and empowered during customer interactions. They won’t hesitate to answer questions, fix issues, and troubleshoot with you because they will feel secure in the training they’ve received from the organization. Jiffy Lube took the top spot on Training Magazine’s list of 125 best companies for training after securing a staggering 148,000 certifications for its employees in one year. With that much training, you can be sure their staff feels comfortable assisting customers and providing a positive experience.
- Vision Statement — If your employees have a strong sense of what the company stands for, what its goals are, and why it exists, they will feel more connected to the business. That connection will promote confidence and keep them invested in organizational objectives. Employees who work in a vacuum, without a true understanding of how one’s actions impact the entire company, are unlikely to feel empowered to help take the organization to the next level. The San Diego Zoo is world renowned for their facilities and the way their animals are treated. They have a clear vision statement: To become a world leader at connecting people to wildlife and conservation. A statement like that makes it easy for employees to understand how their positive actions with visitors and the animals they care for fit into the overall organization’s vision, and it empowers them to take part in bringing that vision to fruition.
- Alignment — Employees with a comprehensive understanding of why customer policies and strategies are in place, and who are in agreement with these policies, are empowered to be the best brand advocates and deliver exceptional customer service. However, successful alignment on the purpose behind a company’s customer service initiatives with customer-facing employees requires training on a deeper level than simply explaining processes and how following a pre-determined blueprint will achieve positive results. If the organization can convey the larger goal and vision for the brand’s customer service, then customer-facing employee will feel empowered to back the company when dealing with customer service concerns, complaints and requests.
Of course, this alignment must work both ways. Businesses that demonstrate the highest forms of employee alignment and engagement also encourage employees to point out where policies and procedures are not customer-centric or end-user friendly. This not only serves as a safety-valve to ensure procedures that both the employee and customer will be happy with, but also increases engagement and alignment with employees putting them in a better position to be empowered.
Employee empowerment is a win-win proposition. Your customers enjoy the benefit of great service while your employees get better job satisfaction, engagement, experience and training as a part of your team. Plus, there’s the ultimate benefit of seeing your business grow and thrive, making the investment in employee empowerment a win-win-win.