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Empower Your Workforce to Fix Things for Customers

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The following is an excerpt from Brad Cleveland’s Contact Center Management on Fast Forward: Succeeding in a New Era of Customer Experience.

Real-time management is often viewed as a matter of responding to workload quantities. What’s often missed in these discussions is how to respond to the nature of the workload. If it’s heavy, there usually are underlying issues driving it. You can throw all the resources at it that you want, but if you organization isn’t prepared to handle the content of the work, it’s going to be a struggle—for customers and employees.

The secret: empowerment. Effective real-time management depends on it. Many organizations want to do the right thing for customers, but too often put a multi-layered, time-eroding approval process in place to get there. By then, the customer is gone, or the loyalty that could arise from their experience has dwindled. That’s not effective empowerment; in fact, it’s not empowerment at all. Your agents must be able to take action as circumstances unfold. You can’t expect them to be effective unless they have the authority and means to make decisions.

For years, The Ritz-Carlton has given staff $2,000 of discretion, per employee and per guest, to resolve problems as the employee feels is appropriate. As a senior manager explains, “Sometimes the most delightful ‘wow’ moments happen in the blink of an eye. If employees are not empowered and need to cross layers of approval, these moments could be lost forever.”

Many executives, understandably, are initially concerned with empowering employees to the extent that The Ritz-Carlton does. But empowerment is actually cost-effective. Employees appreciate the trust and want to make decisions that are right for customers and the organization. And because it’s happening on the spot, you are saving resources and aggravation by minimizing the need for managers to review and approve decisions.

The key is to have clear standards and guidance on how to make good decisions. Here are the kinds of questions each employee should be equipped to answer:

  • What’s the right thing to do?
  • What would resolve the problem for this customer?
  • What decision best aligns with our values and mission?
  • If absolutely necessary, how and to whom do I escalate this issue?
  • How should I best capture information and learnings about this issue so that we are equipped as an organization to make improvements going forward?

Training and coaching should be focused on these key questions. Create scenarios and role plays that strengthen judgment and decision-making skills. You won’t be able to anticipate and train on every situation that comes along, but you can provide a foundation that leads to good decisions no matter the circumstance.