A young man working for a Big Boss made an expensive mistake his first week on the job. At the end of the week the young man cleaned out his desk and packed up his things to leave.
The big boss asked, “And just what do you think you are doing now?”
“I’m leaving,” said the young man. “I made such an expensive mistake, surely you don’t want me to come back here again next week.”
“Are you kidding?” exclaimed the Big Boss. “I just spent a small fortune educating you. You’d better come back next week and show me what you learned.”
Have you ever asked a frontline service provider for something special and been told, “Sorry, company policy. The answer is NO!” Doesn’t do much to improve customer satisfaction, does it?
Have you ever asked to speak with the supervisor and found the answer soon changed to YES?
When this happens (and it does all over the world) how do you feel about the company? Do you respect the organization more, or less? Does it improve your customer satisfaction?
How do you feel about the supervisor? Do you admire their use of authority, or feel pity for the frontline staff they overrule?
How do you think the frontline service provider feels? (And whose rule was he following in the first place when he said, “The answer is NO?”)
One supervisor took this problem a step further and asked me the following question:
In our business, customers who get special treatment come back later and they only want to speak with a supervisor and no one else. These customers have lots of friends and tell everybody. I am afraid everyone will want the same special treatment.
In the end we would have no need for counter clerks as the supervisors would be serving all our customers! This might make the customers happy, and that is our ultimate goal, but it would be too much for our supervisors to handle. We have plenty of other work to do! How can we solve this situation?
Here is my answer:
Companies should empower frontline staff to do what the supervisor ultimately does, without having to check with the supervisor each and every time. This means staff must get training to know what’s right – and have authority to do what’s right to improve customer satisfaction.
It means supervisors must trust their staff to do the right thing at the right time and not abuse the privilege. It also means frontline staff must learn the skills required – and earn the trust desired. Consistency will improve customer satisfaction.
This approach shifts the supervisor into the role of educator and motivator rather than controller and dominator. It’s a huge change of mindset and culture in any organization, but it can improve customer satisfaction.
And it’s the right thing to do for two reasons:
One: The experience customers have with your company must be positive and uplifting, or they won’t come back. If your customer must get in touch with a supervisor to get satisfaction, more flexible competitors may take your customer away simply by working to improve customer satisfaction where you have not.
If, however, you can please your customers, inspire your customers, and make your customers feel welcome in a non-bureaucratic way, their desire to come back (and tell others) will grow. In short, your efforts to improve customer satisfaction will have worked.
This is essential for successful business in today’s fast-changing and customer-centric world. Improve customer satisfaction and businesses tend to thrive.
Two: The cost of staff doing robotic work (and referring every exception to the supervisor) is simply too high to sustain. Companies that invest wisely in appropriate training will do far better than those who overspend on high levels of supervisory staff. An overload of supervisors isn’t necessary to improve customer satisfaction.
Customers get smarter every day. So smart companies provide self-service tools for most basic needs. Well-trained frontline staff should spend their time helping new customers get acquainted and assisting repeat customers with any special situations to improve customer satisfaction.
This makes sense, it makes money and it will improve customer satisfaction.
The next time you need to go beyond the frontline staff to get what you want from a supervisor, ask yourself this question: “Would you rather go to another business if the staff in that organization could say ‘yes’ to you in the first place?”
If so, let the first business know what it takes to improve customer satisfaction. And if they still won’t empower their staff, then get up and go!
Key Learning Point To Improve Customer Satisfaction
Give your frontline team the training and authority they need to take care of customers without constantly asking for approval. This will help you build your business, improve customer satisfaction and keep your most able staff loyal and growing.
Action Steps To Improve Customer Satisfaction
Make a complete list of everything your frontline staff cannot do to improve customer satisfaction without getting a supervisor’s permission. (Hint: ask your frontline staff to make the list.)
Now scrutinize the items one by one and do everything you can to make the list simpler and shorter. Where staff can be trained to decide for themselves, train them. Where guidelines are needed, provide them. If mistakes will be made, allow for them. Over time, everyone can learn to do what only the supervisor used to do and improve customer satisfaction along the way.
Empowerment is simple, really. Give good staff the authority to make a decision and tell them to use their common sense to improve customer satisfaction. If they bring a situation to you that they should handle themselves, turn it back to them. If they make a good decision, pat them on the back. If they make a bad decision, pat them on the back for doing something and then help everyone learn from the mistake.
One more thing: Leaving things as they are is not an option for success. Your best staff will leave in frustration, your customers will leave for better service elsewhere, and you will be right where you were at the beginning, making all the decisions…alone.
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Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission. Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “Uplifting Service” book and founder of Uplifting Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit UpliftingService.com.
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