Its about what
you do, not what you say.
“Empowerment” is a term all to frequently used like paradigm and “thinking outside the box;” after a while we get tired of hearing it. Since it is often overused and misused, it begins to lose its true meaning and usefulness, often ignored or rejected. However, the concept of empowerment is extremely important to the success of companies and support operations in particular.
Empowerment means to give someone power or authority. In a customer support role that could mean allowing front line support providers the ability to make decisions that are exceptions to the rules like offering something to the customer that would not be normal, perhaps a concession if they have had a bad experience. By allowing front line support providers to make some exceptions, it saves valuable time for the customer and the company. It relieves the supervisor from having to be instantly available for decision making, it creates goodwill and customer satisfaction, and it allows the support provider to have some ownership in decisions. When customers realize that the support provider must continuously ask permission, the customer often bypasses the support person.
There seems to be some disconnect in what management or executives believe about empowerment of employees and what frontline support providers understand about their own empowerment. If we define empowerment as giving someone power and authority then it might be easy to see why many employees do not believe they are empowered. When employees have to get permission for minor decisions, they are not empowered. When they get reprimanded for making “the wrong” decisions, they are sure they are not empowered.
It is vital
that employees do not feel “whipped” when they make a mistake.
Punishment (however they perceive it) will only cause them to reduce
their feelings of empowerment. It
is important to approach corrective action as a learning process and allow the
employee to feel confident and assured that he/she is still doing the right
thing. It is very easy to discourage an employee with negative
feedback. More than likely, an
employee can self evaluate a situation and determine what went wrong and what to
do next time.
It seems there is little understanding about how one becomes empowered. Some may believe in using pixie dust or the magic empowerment wand. Those, typically, are not effective. In order for any employee to be empowered, they must be trained. Often supervisors are able to make decisions that their subordinates can’t. They know more options, limits, or have experience that helps them make good decisions for the company and the customer. They have been trained. That same training can easily be delivered to the frontline employees so they can make better decisions, quickly, and accurately.
When employees are trained and empowered, there are many
nifty benefits. One is the customer
is helped quickly and effectively. Another
is the company does not need to have supervisors running around making decisions
that someone else is capable of making. That is redundancy. And a great benefit
is employees feel good about themselves since they are making decisions and
taking ownership. In fact, another
definition of empowerment is “to give somebody a sense
of confidence or self-esteem.” Can’t
go wrong there.
I recall an instance
where a support employee and a supervisor discussed giving a customer a $10
credit for an unusual circumstance. They
debated for 30 minutes. This situation can be described as a poor economic
decision. There has to be reasonableness to making exceptions to the rules or
policies. An organization can
easily determine the limits for variations from the desired rules.
Employees can learn these variations in the implementation of guidelines.
Guidelines imply “soft walls” instead of hard and fast walls of
policies. Customers hate hearing
about any company’s policies. It
just makes them more irritated. Often,
employees learn as they go, picking up techniques, trends, and limitations on
handling the unusual customer scenarios. Supervisors
can provide continuous on-the-job training as well as more formal training.
employees does take dedication and effort on the part of management, the results
can provide the company with increased production, improved customer
satisfaction, and employee satisfaction. Give
it a go.