Empower your front line
Think about how many times a customer will call or send an email to your company.
On the first shipment, I’d guess 14 on the low end. Double that if anything goes wonky. Now picture the people who will answer these calls.
Customer service reps, salespeople, receptionists, drivers, and dispatchers are the face of your business, and collectively they are the single-best tool you have for building customer loyalty. But the fact is, most employees are scared of making even the smallest decisions. They would rather let a customer wander into the phone system than freelance an answer, especially if it might cost the company a few bucks or encroach dangerously into a supervisor’s territory.
If you value the time of your customers and your employees, every interaction should be productive, satisfying, and quick. That means empowering frontline staff.
Create a seat at the table
No one knows your customers better than the people who deal with them every day. Instead of developing customer strategies from the vacuum of a C-level suite, ask your frontline employees for help, and listen to what they have to say. It’s a small but important step in empowering them to make a difference.
There will be two winners
You might think I’m nuts, but I have always believed that employees rank higher than customers in the pecking order.
Help your people help the customer. No employee likes getting ripped a new one when it comes to a service failure that was
out of their control, or a situation over which they have zero power to rectify. When you empower frontline employees to solve problems for customers, they’ll feel like heroes.
The customer will feel better, too. There’s nothing more frustrating than being told that the solution to your minor problem needs a manager’s approval. Shippers don’t wait for approval. They take their load to another trucker.
Use your judgement
The employee handbook at Nordstrom department stores is famously short: decisions on behalf of the business. It’s ironic that the same company which gives a dispatcher the authority to run an empty truck for about 500 kilometers will not allow a customer service clerk to cut a bill by $25 to appease an irate customer.
Change the mindset
Ultimately, companies should empower frontline staff to do things that managers can do, without having to run for approval every time. This change won’t happen overnight, because managers will need to shift their mindset from “controlling supervisor” to facilitator. Helping frontline staff develop the all-important good judgement might be a manager’s most important job.
The perfect combination
The positive impact of paying out a $200 freight claim is lessened when it takes two months of wrangling to get it done. Why make a customer stew for weeks over something that costs the same as a steak dinner?
Empowerment is about giving people the authority to make decisions, and the ability to get results fast. It’s the perfect combination for developing loyal, long-term customers. And that’s almost as good as loyal, long-term employees!