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Empower Your Employees
By Dave Balch

Good customer service is the holy grail of good business. After all, if your customers aren't astonished at your service ("happy" with your service just isn't good enough any more) then they won't be back and they won't recommend you to their friends.

But how do you insure that all of your customers' experiences are astonishing? Naturally, you will stay on top of things and make sure that you go that extra mile to please, but can you be everywhere at once? Do you personally handle every order? If you do, your quest to astonish is much easier, but if you have employees on the front line, they have to do the job.

Do they know how important it is? Do they know how to do it? And, most importantly, are they empowered to do whatever has to be done?

I recently went to a local fast-food chicken franchise and placed my order for the 2-piece meal. The girl behind the counter told me that they only had one piece left and were just finishing a new batch that would be ready in 9 minutes. I told her, "I'm starving. How 'bout if you give me the one piece that you have, and then you'll owe me one?" When the new batch was ready, she gave me the piece she owed me along with an extra biscuit "because I had to wait".

The key to this story is the extra biscuit. I don't know if she was trained specifically for this type of situation, but if she didn't have the authority to give away a free biscuit, this customer service success story would never have happened.

Another example: my former brother-in-law ordered a pizza for home delivery. When it arrived it was wrong, so he called and they promised another one right away. When it arrived it, too, was wrong. Again he called, again they promised another right away, and when it arrived it was correct, and there was a coupon in there for a free pizza because of the two mix-ups. Good! Perfect! Someone had the authority to fix a bad situation with a freebie. But when he went to the restaurant to use the coupon, he ordered his pizza, presented the coupon, and the man taking his order told him, "I'm sorry sir, but your coupon is good for two toppings and you ordered three, so I'm going to have to charge you fifty cents." POW! There goes the goodwill created by the free pizza!

Give your front-line employees the power to make customer service decisions. It may cost a few dollars, and there may be some mistakes, but the net result will be positive. If you are worried about it, then set limits as to how much the employee can "give away" in terms of products or services. Depending on your situation, you may be able to actually give a gift that costs you nothing! For example, an Internet vendor could give a free eBook or electronic report.

Sure it's a gamble, but ignoring this is a bigger gamble in my opinion. Cover your bases by setting some limits, but allowing your front-line employees (that includes you!) to make some simple concessions in the name of customer service will pay big dividends. The customer you please, may be your best one!

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(c) Copyright 2009-2003, Dave Balch. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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