Great organizations empower people to think

September 19th, 2014

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 realize my community reputation is on the line and so I try to be extremely respectful in dealings with the public — even when I’m frustrated. (Actually, I am reminded that it’s biblical to guard the tongue.)

Each unresolved phone call and visit ended the same way, with the service person who had not yet solved my problem, and had actually prolonged it, asking me the same question. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

It soon became obvious that the company policy required them to ask this question at the conclusion of every service encounter. I get that. As I reflected on each conversation, however, it was apparent that the customer service people were scripted in all their responses. They are trained what to say for certain situations, but how was I supposed to answer this standard closing question?

I hadn’t received any help.

How could they help me with “anything else” when they hadn’t help me with anything?

I realize the scripted question was intended to ensure good customer service and 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.)

This was a minor incident, and honestly not that big of a deal in the story of my life, but it reminded me of an important organizational principle.

Great organizations empower employees the freedom to think for themselves.

They allow individuals to make the best decision at the moment for the setting they are in, realizing that the best person to make a decision as to what they should say is the one having the conversation with the customer. In my situation, 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.” Instead, I was recited a standard, pre-written line from a company handbook that really didn’t even apply to my situation. If a leader wants his or her team to make the best decisions, give them the right to think for themselves!

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

I love the motto of Nordstroms Department Store. I’ve read their philosophy is to instruct employees to always make a decision that favors the customer before the company. They are never criticized for doing too much for a customer; they are criticized for doing too little.

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 that I knew. I asked him what he would try if it were his house. He gave me a suggestion. We went with that. Trouble solved.

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


Ron blogs at RonEdmondson.com.

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