When do you allow process and procedure get in the way of customer service? When do you choose to empower employees rather than rely on the process? It's a fine line, but I think it is a line worth finding.
I had a poor experience at a favorite chain of mine recently. I went to a different location than my usual. The customer service was sub-par at best, and here's why. In order to run a successful organization, it is necessary to have a process; a process that employees and managers can rely on to give customers the best experience possible. I understand this completely. I too served my term in the service industry. But my argument here is based on the fact that the process trumped my customer service experience, and as a result, this chain now has an unhappy customer with a wide array of choices.
The Problem with the Process
As I stood in line, the errors were all visibly apparent to paying customers, which made the experience more frustrating. The cashier was clearly overwhelmed. One employee present did not jump on and open another line or offer to prepare something for the next guest. I am guessing because it was "not his job". Instead, this fellow employee paid special attention certain young lady sitting nearby. The other was sweeping like her life depended on it. She occasionally glanced helplessly over the long line forming before her, but chose to keep sweeping. Is it possible she was not trained? Yes. Is it possible she was expected to complete the task before her? Yes. Is it also possible her shift was almost up? Yes. A manager was nowhere to be found. Lack of leadership anyone?
But all of this from a customer's point of view could be easily fixed. The issue is that from a management standpoint, the situation is more complex. There are processes and procedures in place. There are expectations to be met. Money to be saved. Levels of employment and responsibilities. So where is that line?
Empowering vs Prohibiting
At one of my previous places of employment in the service industry, we were taught to exceed customer's expectations at any cost. The policies and procedures were set in place, but when it came to making it right by a customer, we as employees were empowered to recognize and correct the problem.
Your process is crucial to your business. You are dealing with people, and people have options. By creating brand ambassadors - not employees - you now have people who embrace your company's values and will be willing to follow a process, but are more than willing to go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction when they interact with your brand.
Finding the Line
A process by definition is “a systematic series of actions directed to some end”. In an empowered organization, a process is merely a guideline; a message saying “hey, stay between these two lines please, but if you can’t grab a manager, team leader, there is someone that can make a decision at the next level”.
There is no correct answer in finding the line. In fact, in empowered organizations I've worked with, the line varied by department, market, location - even by team within each department, market and location.
You have to decide as a business owner, how do you want the public to view your organization? Better yet, how do you safe guard against this happening in your organization? All too often we spend more time following the process and training everyone in the organization to follow the process rather than use the process as the guideline it should be.