Worker Empowerment Pays Off
 Put your whole company in Customer Service Mode

by Peter Cheales  

Discreetly scouting around any company will quickly tell you the quality of service you can expect and whether the business is destined for success or the corporate graveyard. Pay particular attention to the employees. Beat a hasty retreat if the people you meet are indifferent, apathetic and lethargic. The people who work for depressed companies (companies on the way out) show no emotion and display little interest in the products or in you, the customer.

I often meet the people who head these companies when I speak at conferences. They come up to me after I've delivered my presentation and complain: 'I want to do what you suggest to revitalise my customer service, but my employees are so de-motivated. They just seem to lack energy and initiative.'

Think empowerment. Create and implement a strategy that will pass more responsibility on to your workforce.

When employees join your company, they come with bountiful talents. In most cases newcomers are full of enthusiasm. But much of their ardour and energy gets drained by traditional-style managers who insist on placing them in rigid little 'function boxes' - the type so beloved by time and motion study experts.

Unleash your employees' potential by removing the shackles that restrain their talents and energy. Free of the chains of outmoded, bureaucratic management techniques, they'll be more committed, happier, more productive and more responsive to your customers.

So let your workers do their thing unfettered. You'll find that they really do know best when it comes to doing their jobs.

Here are eight steps to staff empowerment that work:

  1. Keep your workers busy. Give them all the responsibility they can handle.
     
  2. Set specific performance standards. Ensure that every employee know what levels of customer service the company expects them to deliver.
     
  3. Rethink company policies. Scrap any that hinder the provision of excellent customer service by members of your staff.
     
  4. Only offer on-the-job advice when workers ask for it. Avoid monitoring every move they make unless you want to disempower them. Tell them clearly what you want done, give them a reasonable deadline and let them get on with it.
     
  5. Make allowances for mistakes. Don't punish people for making them. When you give your workers the tools to do the job and leave them to do it, some will make errors along the way. If you mouth off about them, you'll discourage your employees from taking even calculated risks by always sticking to a play-it-safe routine. This will kill initiative stone dead. A big part of empowerment is tempting people to test their limits. Mistakes happen. When they do, pick up the pieces and move on.
     
  6. Revamp your company's recruitment policy. Woo high-energy, motivated self-starters. They are the only people suitable for empowerment. You'll only court disaster by letting the rest of the herd run free.
     
  7. Offer workers meaningful incentives. Why should anyone bust a gut for you? Ensure that your employees know what's in it for if they go that extra mile. It doesn't always have to be money. Picking up the tab for all-expenses-paid holidays or after-hours courses may be more appreciated.
     
  8. Acknowledge exceptional customer service. Ensure that achievers hear the applause by making public presentations at monthly staff get-togethers.

On its own, empowerment can't solve problems. But it brings more brainpower to bear on overcoming chinks in your business and customer service armour. It also builds staff loyalty, enhances productivity and slashes the cost of constantly inducting newcomers recruited as a result of high staff turnover levels.

If you're going to empower your staff, go the whole way. If you don't, you'll only increase employee cynicism and distrust. Make your workers 'partners' in the business. Give them all the facts, not just information you've sanitised before passing it down through the ranks. They'll need to be kept fully in the picture if you're going prosper in the changing business environment.

Today's customers no longer select just a product or service. They want what they buy to be configured for their specific use. And the want it done yesterday. Customisation will increasingly be the name of the game. To compete in this environment, your staff will have to become more deeply involved in decision-making on a daily basis. By empowering those on the factory floor, your firm will be able to accelerate its response to rapidly changing business conditions and customer demands.

Empowerment only works when there is a free and open flow of information throughout the business. Stifling the flow denies your workers the facts they need to be fully effective.

Don't always put your customers first. Sure, they're not just important to the health of your bottom line, they're vital. So are your employees. Without them you wouldn't have customers. And no customers equals no business.

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