Roadblocks to Empowerment.
By John Tschohl
Wednesday, 24th August 2005
Empowerment is the most critical element of customer service and yet most businesses do not practice it. Sure, they say their employees are empowered, but they aren't and that can wreak havoc on the bottom line. If you want to retain your current customers and attract new customers, you absolutely must empower your employees to take care of them.

So why doesn't every company practice empowerment? Following are six major roadblocks to empowerment.

They don't understand it. Many companies think empowerment is giving employees policies and procedures to follow in serving the customer. Real empowerment is giving employees, particularly frontline employees, the authority to do whatever it takes to ensure that a customer is satisfied—and to do it on the spot.

They fear it. Management is afraid they'll lose power and control, or have their jobs eliminated, if they allow their employees to make decision that are not controlled by them and their policies. What they don't realize is that when they empower their employees, they will have more time to focus on other issues that will drive the company's business.

Employees also fear empowerment. Making empowered decisions means taking risks. Frontline employees in particular are afraid to make empowered decisions because they think they will be fired or, at the very least, reprimanded if they make a mistake in trying to satisfy the customer. Their thought process is this: "There are millions of customers, but I only have one job; why would I risk losing it?" You must let your employees know that it is OK to make a mistake in the process of working to win customer satisfaction.

They don't trust employees—or customers. Management doesn't trust its employees. They think employees, particularly frontline employees who often are paid minimum wage, are not bright enough to make decisions that will keep the company in the black. They think customers are, for the most part, dishonest and are out to take advantage of the company in any way possible. You must trust your employees to do the right thing, to take care of your customers and to ensure that those customers will return to you again and again.

They develop rigid policies and procedures. Most companies have developed policies and procedures that are geared to protecting it from ignorant employees and dishonest customers. The problem is that those policies and procedures get in the way of serving the customer and, as a result, have a negative impact on the bottom line. I challenge you to identify and eliminate policies and procedures that make it difficult for customers to do business with you.

They don't train their employees. Training is a key component in the empowerment equation. When employees are trained and empowered to handle customer complaints, they not only will maintain customer loyalty, they will restore it. Too many companies don't train their employees. E Wong, the largest supermarket chain and most successful retailer in Peru, should be a role model for companies throughout the world. It has 8,000 employees, a 68 percent marketshare, and a continuous training program that includes every employee. How do I know this? Because the company hires me to provide that training.

You must train every employee so they understand that they are in the service business, not the manufacturing or banking business. That is what Southwest Airlines has done, and the result is obvious. The airline has made a profit for 32 consecutive years, even as other airlines are on the brink of bankruptcy.

Their vision is short-sighted. Most companies don't realize that the empowered decisions their employees make today will have a long-term impact on the company. A customer on the receiving end of an empowered decision will tell others about the wonderful service she received at your company. That word-of-mouth advertising is priceless and powerful. It can drastically reduce your need to spend millions of dollars on advertising to get customers through the doors of your business, customers you then drive away with lack of service.

Empowerment is the foundation of customer service. Without it, you have nothing. You must empower your employees. You must support and reinforce their empowered actions. Celebrate them, applaud them, and reward them. Make heroes of your empowered employees. On the other hand, get rid of employees who refuse to make empowered decisions. Help them find jobs with your competitors.

John Tschohl is an international service strategist and speaker. Described by Time and Entrepreneur magazines as a customer service guru, he has written several books on customer service, including e-Service, Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service, The Customer is Boss, and Ca$hing In: Make More Money, Get a Promotion, Love Your Job. John also has developed more than 26 customer service training programs that have been distributed and presented throughout the world. His bimonthly strategic newsletter is available online at no charge. You can reach John at john@servicequality.com.
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