Power to the (Customer Service) People!

Power to the (Customer Service) People! 150 150 Randi Busse

If you had to describe effective customer service in a single phrase, what would it be? I would define it as the ability and authority to take whatever action is necessary to make a customer happy. I believe mine is a reasonable definition given the nature of customer service itself.

With that said, effective customer service requires that staff members be empowered by their employers to both make decisions and take action. This leads to a question: does each and every employee in your organization, with jobs that involve customer contact, have the ability and authority to make decisions that are in the best interests of customers? If not, they are not empowered to keep customers happy.

You must understand that customers looking for help from your customer service team want immediate answers. They want solutions to their problems, not customer service reps transferring them from one department to the next. They certainly don’t want to be dismissed with a promise that a manager will call back later.

What Does Your Customer Service Department Do?

Modern business has unfortunately evolved into a rigid, top-down organization that is reluctant to give people at the bottom of the organizational chart the freedom and authority to do what they need to do. Modern business is more about micromanagement than actual problem-solving.

To that end, one of the first questions I ask clients in this regard is this: what does your customer service department do? I’m hoping to hear an explanation of customer service reps empowered to do their jobs. That is not always the case. More often than not, customer service reps are merely phone-answering personnel who defer all decisions to supervisors or middle managers.

Maintaining this kind of top-down customer service department leads to unhappy customers. Why? Because customer service reps not empowered to make decisions:

  • Do not present an air of confidence when dealing with customers;
  • Frequently have to put customers on hold in order to talk to supervisors;
  • Don’t tend to make an effort to understand answers and solutions;
  • Often do not have any real answers to give customers; and
  • May not really care about the end result once the customer interaction is complete.

Are You Willing to Empower Your Staff?

I hate to paint such a negative picture of customer service, but that is what customers often encounter. The question for you is whether you are willing to empower your staff to take care of customers. If you are, you will reap the benefits that come with an empowered customer service team. If not, your current level of customer service may never improve.

There are three things you need to do to empower your staff. First is to give them the authority to make decisions without necessarily consulting a supervisor or mid-level manager. It’s true that decision-making authority comes with a certain level of responsibility, but almost every employee will rise to the occasion if given the opportunity.

Second, customer service staff need to be trained to keep up with company standards and solutions. It’s not reasonable for employers to expect staff members to make wise decisions if those staff members are not kept up-to-speed at all times.

Finally, those customer service representatives who take good care of customers should be rewarded for their efforts. Rewards are an excellent incentive for taking ownership of one’s work. And it’s not necessarily money that your employees want. It’s often acknowledgement and validation that motivates them.

So, are you ready to power up your team?


Randi Busse, President, Workforce Development Group