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The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain has an exciting customer service policy that empowers every employee with $2,000 to satisfy any guest without approval. This isn’t a one-time power but it’s per incident. Some business owners like the general idea but express concerns about providing employees with this much freedom. They worry that employees will either abuse the empowerment or simply use it as a first course of action rather than effectively assessing each situation to determine whether another course of action could achieve the same goal. It’s certainly disconcerting and scary to give your employees unsupervised access to your wallet.
The ability of an employee to satisfy an upset customer on the spot is essential to diffusing and potentially rescuing a customer relationship. The reason this is so powerful is that most customers don’t expect employees to be so empowered. This is also why most upset customers immediately ask for a manager, rather than explain their problems to the first employee that attempts to assist them.
An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests that businesses empower their employees within boundaries. It further suggests that if the situation calls for a solution outside of those boundaries, the business should then require that its employee involve management. This is preferable to having the employee tell the customer there is nothing more that can be done, and potentially losing the customer’s business. This approach takes into account that, “employees often lack the experience, judgment, and discipline necessary to achieve this without breaking the bank.” But it still allows them the leeway to make some decisions on the spot.
The key to the success of a program of this type is “giving them a framework within which to operate… and feedback about how they are performing within that framework.” This empowers employees to WOW customers while minimizing abuses. At the same time, it ensures that larger issues which cannot be resolved within this framework get escalated to a manager. It also helps ensure that the employee doesn’t brush the customer off without satisfying them.
Customers don’t expect perfection. What they do expect, however, is for a business to make right a mistake. Many times, management fails to hear about issues because employees don’t escalate them. All too often, the first time management hears about an issue from an irate customer is via a bad review on Yelp or similar review site. This situation is avoidable. Whether you choose to give your employees free rein financially a la Ritz-Carlton or choose a more moderated form of empowerment as suggested by the Harvard Business Review, implementing some sort of empowerment on the employee level is a powerful way to retain customers and put out fires before they spread.