Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Employee Empowerment

Image courtesy of hattie.burgher
Are your employees empowered to do what's right for your customers?

I know some people think "employee empowerment" is an over-used phrase. I think there's some good in that term, and I'm not quite convinced that it's over-used. Perhaps it's over-used in the sense that it becomes meaningless when we just carry on about how employees should be empowered, but then we don't really know what it means or why.

My focus, of course, is on employee empowerment and how it relates to delivering a great customer experience.

What does it mean to be empowered or to empower? According to Google, it means: to give (someone) the authority or power to do something. That's exactly what I'm referring to.

Consider these examples from the hospitality industry:
  • Ritz-Carlton allows employees to spend up to $2,000 (per incident) to make a situation right with a customer or to ensure full customer satisfaction, without having to get anything approved by a supervisor first. I'm told this is rarely used.
  • Hyatt has an empowerment program that allows employees, at their discretion, to do little extras for their customers, e.g., buy flowers, comp a meal, send a bottle of wine, etc. Unfortunately, this program seems to get used too often for things it shouldn't be.
  • Diamond Resorts' employees have been given the power to say "Yes" when a guest approaches, even before the guest makes a request. The CEO believes that guests aren't going to ask for anything ridiculous but that they will have reasonable requests, requests that employees need to (should) fulfill in order for guests to have the best experience.
I like that there's an example without money tied to it; after all, it's not really about the money, is it? It's about doing whatever it takes to do the right thing. It's about making it right if it's not and doing right. Customers don't necessarily expect you to spend any money for/on them; they do, however, want to know that you: understand them and the situation (empathy), are reasonable and listen, and will do what's right. (I'm no fool; sometimes they do want more.)

From the employee perspective, it's about responsibility, ownership, and accountability. It's also about trust; the employee is given the keys to the castle and trusted to do what's right for the customer and for the business. Empowerment means never having to ask, "Is it OK if I do this for my customer?" Empowerment means not having to ask for permission.

How do you unleash employee empowerment? How do you set employees on the path to deliver the experience you expect them to deliver? A few thoughts...
  • It's important to define what empowerment means within your organization, to set boundaries
  • Train, communicate, provide a framework, and then let employees do their jobs; trust them to make the right choices and the right decisions for your customers
  • Feedback and coaching are critical for employees to know if they are on the right track
  • Define what "doing right" means and what it looks like
  • Ensure employees have the knowledge, skills, and training to do what you're expecting of them
  • Define and reinforce what a great customer experience is and what it means for the customer and to the business
  • Ensure that employees have a clear line of sight to the customer
  • Lose the script; empowered employees don't need a script
  • Teach empathy
  • Allow for common sense, but don't necessarily rely on it (yea, that's the cynic in me; that's why we set boundaries)
  • Remind employees that going the extra mile doesn't have to cost a dime; customers want you to listen and act, to do what makes sense
Going back to the definition of empowered, do your employees have the authority (and the knowledge) to do whatever they need to do to make things right for your customers?

Do you have examples of other companies that empower their employees to deliver a great customer experience? I'll give two more examples, to get the ball rolling. Nordstrom employees can do whatever they need to do to ensure the customer is satisfied; their empowerment embodies ownership, as they are encouraged to do what's best for their customers, as if it was their own business. FedEx employees can send apology gifts or credit an account up to $100 without asking permission.

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud. -Coco Chanel


8 comments:

  1. Annette, I think there is a big difference between overusing the term and actually doing it.

    James

    PS the quote is great

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point, James. And I love the quote, too. Think for yourself...

      Delete
  2. Hi Annette,
    For me, empowerment is all about trust and trusting someone/your staff to do what they think is the right thing. However, some firms talk about empowerment and then put lots and lots of controls around it. That, for me, doesn't seem to quite cut it.

    Adrian

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Adrian; empowerment with lots of controls around it is not empowerment at all, is it?!

      Delete
  3. Empowerment to employee for means he/she capable to handle the issue or concern from customer without asking the permission from superior as long as he/she resolve the issue. Also it is key for customer service representative to become a proactive during an engagement to customers for better experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Christian. Agreed... if the employee is empowered, proactive service becomes much easier.

      Delete
  4. Annette, I think there is a big difference between overusing the term and actually doing it.
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    ReplyDelete