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3 Words That Will Instantly Improve Your Team's Customer Service


I was standing in line at a smoothie shop recently and watched how the employees interacted with the customers (as I always do). Most of the transactions were just that … transactions. Employee hands customer product and customer pays for product. Next…

I noticed a couple of situations when a customer needed “help” with something – one was a complaint and the other was a request for something out of the norm. In both instances the employee was unable to take care of the customer. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how - he didn’t have the authority to take care of it. Everyone had to wait while a manager was pulled from another line in order to solve these smoothie crises. I watched customers around me roll their eyes and shook my head thinking how unnecessary it seemed.

I don’t believe businesses should let their employees free wheel it all the time, but I believe they are often handcuffed from making simple decisions when it comes to taking care of a customer. If you want your business or organization to run more effectively - and please your customers more - then follow these three words when managing your team:  EMPOWER YOUR PEOPLE.

I have a favorite “how not to do it” story I tell during some of the customer service presentations I give. A few years ago I was in the drive-thru of a coffee shop. I pulled up to the window and was greeted by a nice young woman. I got my drinks, paid in cash, and then noticed that my change was $20 short. I mentioned it and the employee also recognized what happened, but had a pained look on her face. I asked her if there was a problem and she said “You’re right, but I can’t open the drawer without a manager and there isn’t one here right now.” I said, “OK, well I’ll just pull off to the side and when the next car comes through and the drawer opens, you can give me my $20.” She said, “I know that sounds simple, but I can’t give you money that’s not part of the transaction I’m currently doing without a manager here to witness it.” Awkward staring…

I finally said, “Soooo, what are we going to do?” Her face lit up and she said, “Well, you can call us after we close and if this register is $20 over, then you can come back and we’ll give it to you.” Uhhhh, what?  I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. So I have to leave; call you back in 5 hours; and IF the register is over $20, then I can drive back here to get it?” Her expression told me it didn’t sound so good to her when I said it. She looked helpless and genuinely apologized she couldn’t do anything more.

People … there HAS to be a better way! This young woman was as nice as she could be. She was doing everything in her power to help me – but she couldn’t. Not because she didn’t know how, but because their policy prevented her from doing so. She knew she owed me $20. I knew she owed me $20. But she couldn’t just open the drawer and hand it to me. It wasn’t her fault. I understand that policy came down from some corporate office on Mount Olympus. I also understand it’s about security and making sure there aren’t multiple hands in the cash drawer. The point is - someone in that building better be empowered to handle anything a customer needs at any given time.

Are there serious situations that require top management’s attention? Sure. However, the majority of interactions can and should be taken care of by those who are face to face with the customer the most. This empowerment is particularly important for front-line staff because a manager isn’t always going to be around. Guests hate being kicked around from one employee to another with, “I’m sorry I can’t help with that. You’ll have to talk with a manager. That’s not my department. Blah, Blah, Blah.”

Empowering your people will also give them more responsibility, pride in their work, and buy-in with the goals of your business. You’ll find out more about each employee and how they handle different scenarios - and who may, or may not be, your next leaders.

Be prepared for “teaching moments” because your employee might not handle things exactly like you would.  That's ok.  Everyone has their own personality and style. If their approach needs to be tweaked some, then work on it, but remember: Was the problem taken care of? Was the customer satisfied? Did the solution line up with how you want your business to be perceived?

Do you know the worst thing that can happen when you give your people authority to take care of the customer?  YOU’VE TAKEN CARE OF YOUR CUSTOMER!!

In case I didn’t mention it enough … empower your people. Don’t be afraid to let go of the reins a little. That’s what good leaders and managers do. Train your folks to be able to handle most problems, complaints, and odd requests so you’ll have happier employees and happier customers.





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