How to improve customer service by empowering workers


By John Tschohl

Guest columnist

Guest columnist John Tschohl is an expert on customer service.
John Tschohl discusses ways to empower workers to save time and money.

Imagine a business strategy so powerful it will create loyal customers who will drive a company’s revenue to new heights. That strategy is empowerment, or allowing employees to make a decision on the spot in favor of the customer.

Empowered employees can save a business time and money because customer problems won’t progress up the chain of command to be solved. When customer service decisions are made on the front line, management is freed up to address big-picture issues. While the potential is large, two problems often emerge: CEOs think their employees are empowered when in reality they are afraid to make even the smallest decisions. And most employers fall short of supporting empowerment.

About 90 percent of all empowered decisions will cost a company less than $50 and turn frustrated customers into happy ones, bringing them back time after time. As simple as it sounds, executives must remove four roadblocks  to develop a truly empowered workforce.

Fear “ Employees fear they will be fired for making an empowered decision, while employers fear that customers and employees will abuse empowerment. When you train your employees and support their decisions, you eliminate that fear and allow your employees to be creative, yet responsible, in serving customers.

Distrust “ Employers must trust their employees to make decisions that will keep their customers “ and their money “ coming back. Employees must be able to trust that their employers will not deride or, even worse, fire them if they make a mistake in an attempt to solve a customer problem.

Micromanagement “ Nothing will kill empowerment more quickly than micromanagement.   When you micromanage your employees, you destroy their capacity for even the most basic creative thinking and problem solving. Let your employees know what you need from them, then get out of the way and let them do what you ve asked them to do.

Lack of Recognition “ The need for recognition is universal. Everyone needs to be told when they are doing something well, but often the only time employees get feedback is when they have made a mistake. The more you recognize the empowered decisions and achievements of your employees, the more likely they will be to use their creativity in dealing with situations in the future.

Eliminate these four roadblocks and you ll have an empowered team that will drive your business and crush your competition.

One strategy to encourage empowerment involves providing employees a specific monetary amount they are allowed to spend on empowered decisions, say $50, $100 or $200. The Ritz Carlton, for example, has a $2,000 ceiling that an employee can spend on the spot. Getting an employee to make a $25 to $50 decision in favor of the customer is the perfect example of empowerment, and it will keep customers coming back in the future.

Speed and empowerment go hand in hand. In this digital age, it only takes one unhappy customer to create negative publicity for your business. Instead, when a customer is in front of you with an issue, use empowerment to market to the customer. This leads to word-of-mouth advertising that is priceless.

Empowerment is one of the easiest ways to develop a positive message around your brand, increase revenues and keep customers coming back.

Customer service strategist John Tschohl has been instructing and motivating employees, managers, supervisors and company CEOs for 39 years. He is president of Service Quality Institute, the global leader in customer service training and development.