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Empowerment through Ownership by Michael Brown

November 3, 2017

There are few things more demoralizing to a frontline employee than taking the brunt of customer frustrations while having no power to address them. No employee wants to shrug his shoulders at a complaint, and no customer will tolerate it. After all, what’s the point of placing a living, breathing person in front of your customers if he’s so hamstrung he might as well be a pre-recorded message saying, “I can’t help you”?

There are obvious reasons why low-level employees aren’t given much power. Managers don’t want unprepared employees to worsen a situation with bad information or hand credits or authorize returns out with reckless abandon. But isn’t that a reflection on how we need to train our staff better, not how wise we are to leave them with no control? Speaking from my own experience of working on the frontline of the cellular industry, this policy is how you train both employees and customers resent the company. But if giving additional authority to frontline employees is not always practical or safe, what can we do? When we can’t give employees literal power, how can we still empower them?

Teach them to take ownership—to make customers problems their own. Explain how there’s great power in latching onto the customer experience and guiding it to an equitable conclusion.

Let’s take a scenario from my own experience: a customer comes in and reports that there’s been a billing error on last month’s statement. The easy (and un-empowered) response would be to say, “I can’t fix billing errors. You have to call customer service.” The harder (but empowered) answer is, “Let’s get that fixed. We’ll call customer service right now and sort this out.” An old sports-inspired cliché we used was going to bat for the customer.

In reality, a sales associate like me didn’t have all that much power, and I wasn’t really doing anything the customer couldn’t do for himself. But by taking control of the situation, by taking ownership, I felt empowered and the customer felt cared for. This little trick builds loyalty for both employees and customers alike. This perspective must be taught to your employees; train them to identify the customer’s needs and concerns and make them their own. This is a common sales technique, to be sure, but it’s equally effective and critical in customer service.                                                            

To learn more about training and staff development, reach out to us at The Brandt Group today. We’ll work with you to empower your employees to more richly satisfy your customers, engendering loyalty in both.

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