Great Customer Service Empowers People to Think

Several years ago I had problems with my cable service. I made numerous phone calls and several trips to the company all in an attempt to correct the problem while politely obeying what I was told to do. I realized as a pastor my community reputation was on the line, so I tried to be extremely respectful in dealings with the public – even when I was frustrated. (Actually, I am reminded it’s Biblical to guard the tongue.)

But I was frustrated. This adventure went on for weeks with each phone call and visit ending with no solution to my problem. I was simply given another step I needed to take. One more phone call. One more visit. No solutions. 

And, yet, the most frustrating part of all – each unresolved phone call and visit ended the same way. The service person who had not yet solved my problem, and had actually prolonged it, asked me the same question.Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

It soon became obvious the company policy required them to ask this question at the conclusion of every service encounter. I get it. Give people a script and you perhaps help ensure uniform customer service.

As I reflected on each conversation, however, it was apparent the customer service people did not have freedom of what to say in their responses. They were trained what to say for certain situations, but couldn’t alter how they ended the conversation. How was I supposed to answer this standard closing question?

I hadn’t received any help. I had received absolutely NONE. 

In fact, it seem I was being delayed from getting help. How could they help me with “anything else” when they hadn’t help me with anything?

I realize without some scripting most employees wouldn’t have a clue what to say, but instead of making me feel better about my situation, it only incited a negative emotion. (Which I tried – successfully for the most part – to control.)

Then recently I was traveling on a major airline (Okay, it was American. This is a good story, so I’ll share the name.) My flight was delayed – again. And again. The “rules” of my flight would not have allowed me to change flights, yet the ticket agent saw my dilemma. In fact, she picked up on the fact that I had been on several delayed flights over the last couple days of travel. She offered to try and help. She went away for a few minutes and when she came back she had us on a new flight.

Honestly, I would have been pleased even had she not been able to shift my flight. At least she would have tried. And I don’t know if she had authority to do this or took initiative outside the rules, but it appeared at the time she “broke the rules” to accommodate a weary traveler. What great service!

These were both minor incidents, and honestly not a big deal in the story of my life, but it reminded me of an important organizational principle.

The best customer service a company can offer empowers employees the freedom to think for themselves.

They allow individuals to make the best decision – say the right things – at the moment for the setting they are in, realizing the best person to make a decision or determine what to say is the one having the conversation with the customer. In my cable situation, for example, it may have been better to say something such as, “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you this time. We will continue to work to resolve your problem.”

I would have at least felt I had been heard. Instead, I was recited a standard, pre-written line from a company handbook which really didn’t even apply to my situation.

There are organizational lessons here. 

If a leader wants his or her team to make the best decisions, train them in vision, mission, overall philosophy. Teach them good customer service skills and how to ask the right questions to determine the real problem. Help them understand how to gauge customer attitudes and emotions.

Then give them the right to think for themselves!

I have heard the motto of Nordstroms Department Store is to instruct employees to always make a decision which favors the customer before the company. They are never criticized for doing too much for a customer – they are more likely criticized for doing too little. Love it.

When a person has the authority to alter the script, they are more likely to provide a positive experience for the customer.

By the way, I believe this is an important principle in the church as well. Our goal should be to help volunteers understand the vision, basic teachings and philosophies of the church – then empower them think!

Do you want to know how my cable situation was resolved? Do you like the “end of the story”?

I finally got in touch with an employee from the company I knew personally. I asked him what he would try if it were his house. He gave me a suggestion to try for myself. We went with this and the trouble was solved – in a matter of a few minutes. (And, since it was a conversation among friends, he didn’t even ask me if he could help me with anything else.)

Leaders, does your team feel freedom to make the best decision at the time? Have you freed your people to think?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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  • Donna M says:

    Hi my name Donna and praying for serious direction. Please pray for me I have not been settled since I left an extremely abusive marriage 4 years ago and have never experienced homelessness until going through this my mental and emotional health need Gods healing. I’m a Christian and need real help. My husband passed after 3 years that we separated from an overdose. I do not do drugs and Looking for a place I can live out my life and attend a good church. I’m not from the east but got talked into moving here last year. I feel hopeless and have no family and a small income. I’m alone but can move and would like to but dont know where to go. Donna lqco499@gmail.com please contact me September 15 2018

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