The Five Steps to Empowering Customer Service Staff

Portrait of smiling business people

Perhaps there is nothing so fundamental to the success of an organization as its customer service. Any company in a truly competitive market suffers an inevitable decline if it ignores this basic consideration for too long.

Take McDonald’s as an example: the organization’s recent confession to its franchisees that 20% of consumers’ complaints are due to an “unfriendly service”, with “rude or unprofessional employees” such as the number complaint One is a reminder that service interactions often determine whether consumers will return or not.

Although the company spends almost $ 2 billion annually on advertising, McDonald’s service often leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

In a similar situation, Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, one of the country’s largest banks, both in terms of assets and branches, has begged workers to improve their relationship with customers.

How committed is Moynihan to his goal of improving service relationships? He sent letters directly to the homes of 270,000 employees, outlining the need to make it easier for clients to do business with the bank. This happened after nearly five years of internal discussions about “consumer focus” with Moynihan in command for more than three of those years.


The importance (and difficulty) of committing to the front lines of an organization, to give results from its customer strategy, is one of the fundamental concerns that companies of all industry must take into account to re-visit, In some cases, resuscitate after periods of abandonment.

Our research with more than 20 front-line organizations helped us identify a set of principles to move beyond the basics in customer service by dedicating power, Resources and trust in the hands of front-line staff.

By doing so, an elite group of companies empowers their employees to address consumer issues faster, anticipate unrelated needs, and drive innovation to customers.

We discover information about a variety of companies, ranging from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Yum! Brands, to the Mayo Clinic and the Navy SEALs.

Consider what we can learn from the following examples:, where CEO Jeff Bezos often insists on leaving an empty chair in meetings, to represent the “consumer voice,” has a data-driven culture that actively encourages employees to build experiments Based on the contributions of the consumers. Innovations such as recommendations in the shopping cart have been the direct result of entry-level employees taking the initiative. Behavior-based searches, which resulted in a 3% increase in revenue, were originally implemented by a fellow.

Zara, the Spanish company of fast fashion, receives daily quantitative information and qualitative observations from the store managers, to better understand what customers want.

Every day, shop employees talk to consumers, asking questions such as, “What if this skirt was longer?” Or “What other colours would this garment like?”

This has allowed Zara to limit the introduction of failed products to only 1% (the industry average is almost 10%) while producing almost 10 times the number of products that its major competitors.

Even with these successes, we find that no organization has all the answers.

Combining the best practices of these diverse organizations and others provides a methodology for building a front-line organization, as well as the leadership required to give that line the ability to make real-time judgments.

For companies looking to get more contributions and creativity from the front line staff, here’s a five step process to move beyond a suggestion box mentality.

Step 1: Begin. Connect to the front line with the customer service strategy. Paradoxically, empowering the front line begins with senior leaders, who have the authority to make sure the voices of employees are heard. Leaders need to adjust their promises to consumers with the capabilities of the front line; They should also listen closely so that they can align the company’s culture, training, work processes, and reward systems. For example, David Novak, CEO of Yum! Brands, has given all workers the freedom to spend up to $ 10 to solve any consumer problem.

Read next : 6 Types of Challenging Customers and How To Deal with Them

Step 2: Empower. Teach people to think for themselves. Employees at all levels need to understand the customer service strategy. To promote inter-hierarchical dialogue, they also need to be aware of the frameworks that are used throughout the organization to solve problems. We found that the methodology mattered less than having a shared language and a mental process to diagnose root causes or to explore unmet needs. For example, Ritz-Carlton uses “Mr. Biv “as a shared frame to identify” errors, refills, failures, inefficiencies and variations “in labor processes.

Step 3: Try it. Give employees the freedom to experiment. They will not only see the flaws in the service, but also the opportunities to serve customers in completely new ways. Teaching frontline leaders the basics of designing simple experiments allows organizations to try out many more ideas than could be orchestrated centrally.

Facebook puts this into practice during hackathons designed to unleash the accumulated creativity of employees. Vital features such as Facebook Video, which has garnered billions of hits, came from giving individual programmers the time and resources to tap into their consumer awareness.

Step 4: Remove barriers. Break the hierarchy. Almost all companies have imbued assumptions about roles and power. Unleashing front-line capabilities requires a frequent and diligent effort to eliminate the decision-making processes or the administrative work that is being interposed to enable them to quickly service consumers.

For example, at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, nurses have the power to question the decision or diagnosis of any doctor, through their Plus One protocol, completely breaking the traditional hierarchy.

If nurses – some of whom have more experience than many doctors – fear for the safety of a patient, they can go to a person higher up the scale, or bring a specialist to consult and potentially modify the recommendation Of the initial physician. The hospital was recently named the safest learning hospital in the United States.

Step 5: Invest. Many times, companies reserve large budgets for the training of their senior management, and very little for the staff on the front lines. Similarly, too many companies are content to hire line staff without carefully considering whether they have the right attitude and values.

In Zappos it is not unusual for someone in the process of interviewing for a job of $ 13 an hour, as part of a callcenter, to meet with 15 people before being hired.

If they get the offer, they will be required to go through several weeks of training, including listening to recordings of actual interactions with clients, before they can work a full day.

Delivering a great customer service experience is a fundamental obligation that every company needs to practice, and organizations that excel in this area focus on how to get the most out of their front lines. As companies like McDonalds and Bank of America reconsider how their employees interact with consumers, they will be challenged to move beyond mere rhetoric. If you are really serious about turning your people into a biggest asset, you will have to invest in the front lines.

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