Empowering Your Customer Support Agents
Employee empowerment in customer support is defined as allowing phone agents to make fast decisions on the spot in favor of the customer. It is critically important for organizations to give customer support agents the power to make decisions without supervisor approval. Business and government agencies will never be leaders in customer support without the adoption of true empowerment strategies.
The good news is that most decisions will cost the company less than $50, which is a pittance when considering the lifetime value of the customer and the goodwill that empowered decisions can cultivate. Unfortunately, even employees of businesses that claim to “support empowerment” often fear making the needed decisions on their own.
Here are three key reasons customer support agents do not take the initiative to solve problems independently:
1. They think they will lose their jobs. Many agents believe that it is less risky to lose a customer than make a decision that appears to be detrimental to the company. After all, they think, “No one ever got fired for enforcing a policy, rule or procedure.”
2. They are afraid they will be penalized and have to pay for a mistake. For example, if they upgrade a person from a room to a suite, they will have to pay the difference.
3. They are afraid of negative feedback. There is often very little upside for an employee who makes empowered decisions. Awards and celebrations are rarely offered to employees simply because they made an independent decision to satisfy a customer. There is, however, downside when an employee is criticized for ignoring policy or subjecting the business to undesired costs.
3 Steps to Success
In order to overcome this culture of fear, businesses need to implement three steps for boosting employee empowerment:
1. Assure every department and manager is on board. They must enforce a culture of empowerment within their teams, and they must stand by support agents when they do “color outside the lines”. It just takes one piece of negative management feedback for the employee grapevine to get the message that the policy is just lip service or the policy du jour.
2. Empowerment Training. You have to teach them what is it, how to actualize it and how the organization celebrates it.
3. Reinforce and celebrate empowerment. Most empowered decisions have no significant cost. For example, it might include waiving a late fee or bending the rules on a cutoff time. Empowered employees can modify policies and procedures to fit a situation…and keep customers happy.
The irony is that companies spend massive amounts of money on marketing to attract customers but skimp when it comes to keeping them. If budget were devoted to customer retention by training employees to make empowered decisions, they would see a far more immediate, measurable return on their investments. By empowering employees, you will have happier customers. You will increase market share. And you will make more money.