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How To Empower Your Customer Service Team To Win

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Hiring great people is not enough. You need to empower them to do great things. Here’s how.

Here’s a surprising lesson that many business owners learn the hard way:

Hiring amazing people is NOT enough to have a team that does amazing things.

Hiring the very best engineers, designers, support agents and marketers that you can find is great, and you should look for the best.

But simply having great talent on your team is not going to get them to produce great results.

Support teams—like any other teams—need leadership. They need direction, even if that direction is to give them complete freedom to act on their best judgment.

And when it comes to direction, one of the most commonly discussed policies around support is empowerment.

What should your support agents be allowed to do in the interest of making your customers happy?

In practice, there’s a wide range of policies in place, from businesses that require manager approval for any refund at all, to companies like Ritz-Carlton, which gives each employee a $2,000 “budget” to make any single guest happy.

If you’re a small business, you probably can’t afford the latter.

But guess what? You also probably can’t afford the former. Creating extra layers of complexity and permissions in your support workflow can hurt your team’s morale, slow down resolution times and ultimately result in frustrated, unhappy customers who leave.

Today, we’ll look at a few things that you should think about as you consider putting policies in place that empower—rather than restrict—your support team.

Support Agents Should Be Given the Freedom to Make Customers Happy

If you’ve hired great people, then you should give them the freedom to make your customers happy, whether it’s through the resolution of an incident or a kind gesture “just because.”

Here are 4 things to consider as you shape your own policies:

1) Should You Pick a “Magic Number”?

I want to briefly return to the Ritz-Carlton example in the introduction.

A $2,000 allowance to make things right for a guest sounds like a lot.

And it is.

But here’s the thing: the average Ritz-Carlton customer will spend nearly $250,000 with the business over their lifetime.

In that context, $2,000 is not that significant.

Relating this to your own business, that’s why it’s so, so important to know what your customers are worth to you, and to always be thinking about ways you can add more value to drive customer lifetime value higher.

You don’t have to pick a “magic number” for what your support team can spend.

But if you do, don’t be scared to make it a meaningful amount; after all, it’s an investment in your life-long relationship with the customer.

2) Your Team Should FEEL Empowered

To once again return to the Ritz-Carlton example, the $2,000 number isn’t just a budget.

In fact, that entire amount is rarely used.

But the freedom that a number so large signifies to the support team shows that the brand trusts them to make the right decision; and that the right decision is to do whatever it takes to make the guest happy.

We entrust every single Ritz-Carlton staff member, without approval from their general manager, to spend up to $2,000 on a guest. And that’s not per year. It’s per incident. When you say up to $2,000, suddenly somebody says, wow, this isn’t just about rebating a movie because your room was late, this is a really meaningful amount. It doesn’t get used much, but it displays a deep trust in our staff’s judgment. Frankly, they could go over that amount, with the general manager’s permission.

The concept is to do something, to create an absolutely wonderful stay for a guest. Significantly, there is no assumption that it’s because there is a problem. It could be that someone finds out it’s a guest’s birthday, and the next thing you know there’s champagne and cake in the room. A lot of the stuff that crosses my desk is not that they overcame a problem but that they used their $2,000 to create an outstanding experience.

There are stories about hiring a carpenter to build a shoe tree for a guest; a laundry manager who couldn’t get the stain out of a dress after trying twice flying up from Puerto Rico to New York to return the dress personally; or when in Dubai a waiter overheard a gentleman musing with his wife, who was in a wheelchair, that it was a shame he couldn’t get her down to the beach. The waiter told maintenance, who passed word, and the next afternoon there was a wooden walkway down the beach to a tent that was set up for them to have dinner in. That’s not out of the ordinary, and the general manager didn’t know about it until it was built.

Simon Cooper, Former President of the Ritz-Carlton Company

3) Don’t Be Short-Sighted With Refunds

Fog Creek Software, makers of Trello, FogBugz and Kiln, offers a great perspective on refunds on their pricing pages:

Your support agents should be able to apply the same sentiment to their own interactions:

You shouldn’t have to pay for an experience that doesn’t live up to our standards. I’ve gone ahead and issued a refund for this month’s fees.

A refund is a small price to pay for the long-term benefits of making a customer happy and demonstrating a deep commitment to getting things right.

4) Agents Should Be Able to Make a Customer’s Day “Just Because”

Zappos has more than 600 employees on their Customer Loyalty Team.

Every single one, from executives to the front line, is empowered to make their customers happy, without needing a reason to do so. Whether it’s free overnight shipping, an instant refund or sending surprise flowers or cookies to a customer’s house.

It’s not a coincidence that I don’t even need to explain that Zappos has great service; it’s an aspect of their brand that virtually everyone knows about.

Empowering your support agents isn’t just about making upset customers happy.

It’s about making all customers happy, and turning them into loyal fans for life.

Empowerment as a Policy

You might think that if your policy is to give support agents freedom, that it doesn’t even make sense to bother with a policy at all.

But here’s the thing: a policy of empowerment can be far, far more effective than a “blank check” to be autonomous.

Here’s why: the policy isn’t just there to protect the company. It’s to let your employees know that you, as a business, are committed to empowering them, and that they’re absolutely safe to make decisions with that policy in mind.

That’s where the magic happens; when agents are free—and encouraged—to err on the side of the customer, and not on the side of caution.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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