Rarely do we see principles-based education that allows employees to use common sense to solve the customers' problems, and deliver a pleasing experience.
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All too often training programs represent a set of restrictions that tie the hands of contact center agents and other customer-facing employees, and provide the best excuse why not to service customers well. Built with control in mind, these training programs are about following procedures and adhering to guidelines. They send a message that the procedures are what matter. Rarely do we see principles-based education that allows employees to use common sense to solve the customers' problems, and deliver a pleasing experience.
When you train your people with procedures and rules you train them to focus on adherence to corporate matters. In the process you strip them of any form of responsibility, because they realize that the only responsibility they have is to follow the rules. Performance evaluations often reinforce this priority over any other.
To improve this situation let's start with a basic: terminology. Training is for dogs. We train dogs to repeat actions and not to be creative. Education and learning are for people. We educate them to assume responsibility and contribute to the company, and then we must allow them to do so. So the first step is to change the terms.
The next step is to create a comprehensive learning experience. A good education program should focus on providing data that empowers employees to execute well, and then allows them to use their common sense to resolve customer issues. The most important information your staff must have includes:
1. company's financial data
2. products or service profit margins and costs
3. customer history
4. customer profitability
5. customer preferences
6. the average cost of a complaint
This information will allow employees to use their judgment and apply it to their decisions and solutions. By having this information readily available, they are able to solve the customers' problems faster and more effectively.
Take, for example, my recent trip on Virgin Atlantic from New York to London, during which the entertainment system did not function. To my amazement the crew immediately offered free duty-free items or 10,000 miles to passengers to compensate them for the hassle, and offered different levels of compensation to economy class passengers from what was offered to business class passengers.
When I asked about how the flight attendants handled the situation I was told that they do not have a procedure regarding such an incident. However, they explained to me that the cost of opening a complaint is L25 (approximately $40) and that is before the cost of resolution. The flight attendants applied their common sense and decided to solve the problem faster and before customers would have actually complained. (What a concept!)
If this idea is so simple, why aren't more companies doing it? One reason is simple: They don't have all the data. Most companies have never calculated the cost of a complaint.
But that is the easy part. The hard part is the delegation of power. Managers often feel that empowering employees with this information will relinquish too much power to the employees and make the managers irrelevant. It is time for those managers to understand that power is not a zero-sum game. The more you give, the more you will have. The better your employees perform and delight customers, the better they will look--hence, the better you will look.
It is time to put the responsibility where it belongs, into the hands of the people who deliver the service. Empower them with the knowledge required and set them free to execute.
Lior Arussy is president of Strativity Group Inc. and author of The Experience! How to Wow Your Customers and Create a Passionate Workplace. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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