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Chris LoCurto

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May 25, 2012

The Math of Customer Service: Giving Your Team Members Power

Here’s a guest post on customer service by Cayce Phalen. Cayce is a life coach specializing in personal financial and career coaching with his company World Drive Coaching. Follow Cayce on Twitter of Facebook. You can guest post as well! Read how to here.

It always surprises me how easy it is to take care of customer service issues, yet so many businesses fail to do so. We have all been in line at the store when the person in front has an item that rings up 50 cents more than what the tag says, and the store has failed to give their front line team member the authority to help the situation. So what happens? You wait five minutes while they call someone over to the register to look at the item, they go back and double check the price, and then come back to report a yay or nay. Now, one of two things occurs:

  1. The customer was right all along, and you give it to them for the shelf price. Not only have you given it to them for what they told you but also have made them mad and the customers behind them mad. Plus, you’ve paid two employees during this time frame.
  2. The customer was wrong, so you have to explain to them why they were wrong. They either take the item in frustration or they leave it (and sometimes leave everything else they were going to purchase). You have also made the customers behind them mad.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you trust everyone that comes to your establishment who is telling you a price is wrong. There is an obvious dollar limit. But in the above situation, I have personally been a witness to time and time again.

Now, let us break this down and assume both clerks get paid an hourly rate of $8. That means your cashier and clerk who is price-checking make 13 cents per minute. The example we are using is five minutes, which means you have spent 65 cents for the cashier to stand there. You have also spent 65 cents for the other clerk to go back and check the price. Bottom line is you have now spent $1.30 to save 50 cents and made a line of customers mad.

The point is this: do the math and see that it pays to give your team members the authority and the ability to take care of your customers. Not only will it help your team feel appreciated, valued and trusted, but it also will help your customers feel the same way. Serve your customers, and they will continue to serve you.

Beyond that, what are you telling your customers when your front line can’t even make a small decision like this? While the math makes sense, showing customers that you don’t care enough about them to handle their issues at the moment they have them, doesn’t. The psychology of empowering your team members translates into repeat customers.

Question: have you experienced the difference between empowered and not empowered team members?

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  • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

    Ok – just watching a Fox news panel and one guy says he was waiting behind someone in line at a grocery story and after several minutes of the quibbling over 50 cents, he handed the clerk $5.00 and said “keep the change, I have to go – NOW….”!  

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @LouiseThaxton Exactly my whole point.  Now how likely is that panel member likely to go back to that same store if he has other options?  We all have options and businesses need to pay attention to that.

  • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

    What an incredible way to look at it, Cayce!  To view it from the time spent trying to figure out if the customer is right or wrong – over such a small amount – and aggravating everyone in the process.  Wow – I hope my local department store reads your post! 

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @LouiseThaxton So many companies look at just the sales math instead of the customer math.  Thank you for your comments!

      • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

         @WorldDriveCoach And if you think about it – even the “sales math” doesn’t add up!  Common sense is not so common!

  • http://www.ricardoequips.com RicardoEquips

    Most definitely! I struggle when I don’t empower my team. But when I do it makes a world of the difference for me to get things done that I am the most best at doing rather than trying to do everything and not doing it as could because someone else is better. Good post!

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @RicardoEquips Thank you for the comments.  That is another important part about empowering your people is it does get the minor things off of your back so you can take care of what you need to take care of.  Micromanaging is no way to be a leader.

      • http://www.ricardoequips.com RicardoEquips

         @WorldDriveCoach Exactly! And I don’t like baby sitting! I got a weakness and someone else has the strength. Balance helps cover those open holes in our defense game.

        • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

           @RicardoEquips  @WorldDriveCoach And I don’t like babysitting either!

      • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

         @WorldDriveCoach  @RicardoEquips Is that ever the truth!  Micromanaging takes up too much time and energy and shows a lack of trust for the team!  
         

        • http://www.ricardoequips.com RicardoEquips

           @LouiseThaxton  @WorldDriveCoach Exactly!

  • http://specializingintheimpossible.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

    I’ve never had people working for me…
    But it’s easy to see a difference between coworkers who are empowered and those who are not.
    Those who are not tend to always look forward to the weekend, and seem to loosely hold to a sense of purpose, if at all. Those who are empowered find enjoyment in the work day and feel like they’re making a difference.
    I rather enjoy being empowered myself ;)

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

      @Laura Johnson That is so true Laura! The jobs that I find myself counting down the days and hours till Friday afternoon are definitely the ones that have restricted me most and empowered me least! Great point!

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @Laura Johnson Empowered people do get a sense of purpose and a lot more joy out of their jobs.  Thanks for commenting!

    • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

       @Laura Johnson I had not thought of this, Laura – but you are right.  By empowering people – they have a sense of ownership – and even purpose.  They feel a part of the process.  Great comment!

  • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

    You know, I think morale is one of the things that goes away when team members aren’t empowered. In my current position I used to be given the responsibility to make most of the decisions for my job, then this spring a new manager was hired and he began changing many aspects of how I do my job and expecting me to run virtually every decision by him. That treatment led to a feeling of being untrusted and incompetent.
    When team members aren’t empowered to make the decisions they are best qualified to make the morale and productivity of the entire organization is jeapordized.

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @Skropp Micromanaging never works out well in the long run.  You agitate and alienate your best asset when you do this and you also run yourself into the ground trying to do everything.

      • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

        @WorldDriveCoach That is so dang true! Would you like my manager’s number do you can share that with him? Haha

    • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

       @Skropp You said it – morale suffers.  And team members feel that the leader either doesn’t trust them – or they are incompetent.  

  • Dillanos_ScottH

    Great post Cayce, and you’re right lilykreitinger it is the “cost of incompetence” we end up paying for.  It’s leadership in most cases that is the missing link, no servanthood no service.  If businesses really did the math as suggested there would be a definite cost vs. benefit reason to delegate purpose and authority at all levels.   After a string of similar situations at Lowes I finally made a comment online asking, why is the “Customer Service” desk the only place in the store I can’t get actual service? Large retail gets the cost of fielding service issues, creates a department to funnel “handling” your concern to limit their costs, then makes YOU pay for the incompetence of the people they put behind that desk.  All this happens under a giant “Customer Service Center” sign.  Every positive shopping experience involves two things, a person who takes personal ownership to do the right thing, and leadership that supports and encourages that behavior.  To solidify the math for Lowes in my scenario, I now shop at Home Depot.

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

       @Dillanos_ScottH Powerful Scott!! Powerful!! I can tell you as a recipient of Dillanos customer service, you guys know how to do it right!!

      • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

         @ChrisLoCurto  @Dillanos_ScottH  Yes, Scott, and from what Chris has written about your business, I can’t wait to experience it for myself first hand!   I’ve been thinking about ordering from your site since Chris’ post, but have not done it yet, for some insane reason!  (Must be from working all of these overnight shifts recently!)
        My hope is that I DO NOT have the opportunity to reciprocate excellent customer service for you!  It would mean you’d be in my Emergency Room on a weekend.  Never a good thing.

        • Dillanos_ScottH

           @skottydog I do tend to try and avoid the ER, especially on weekends! I do want to thank you for the comments and what you do.  And as always, thanks @ChrisLoCurto for being so generous with your comments and great content.

        • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

           @skottydog  @ChrisLoCurto  @Dillanos_ScottH
           Yes, that’s one place I would not like to meet you.  We can do the meet-up at Caffe Positano’s instead

        • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

           @lilykreitinger  @ChrisLoCurto  @Dillanos_ScottH That’s sounds PERFECT!  I love that I had lunch with Chris that day, but MAN!  I wish it were dinner, too, after reading about that experience!

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

      @Dillanos_ScottH Great points! I think personal ownership is key. I heard a talk by J.W. Marriott Jr. And he said when he visits his hotels across the globe he’s greeted by the manager saying “welcome to MY hotel, Mr. Marriott!” and he says he loves hearing that! What would that type of ownership do for Lowe’s, or any business??

      • Dillanos_ScottH

        Skropp, That’s pretty awesome, not only that the employees outwardly communicates ownership but that J.W. Marriot Jr. clearly leads in a way that cultivates it.   

        • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

          @Dillanos_ScottH That’s what I thought too. What an awesome culture!!

      • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

         @Skropp  @Dillanos_ScottH Love that!  Both that the managers feel free to share that remark – and that Mariott is open to receive it!

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @Dillanos_ScottH And right there you add on to the math.  Not only did not empowering their service rep cost them a sale it cost them a customer.  Sometimes this is only a few dollars but over a lifetime it can be huge!

  • cabinart

    All the more reason to shop online!

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

       @cabinart BAH!!!!

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @cabinart I have had my fair share of battles with online reps as well :-)

      • cabinart

         @WorldDriveCoach You are right, and then there is no real person to deal with. Paypal, eBay, Amazon – so far, so good! I actually have a personal shopping motto – “If it’s not in my town, I don’t need it”. It isn’t entirely true, but at least we do have a hardware store AND a yarn shop!

  • http://www.thecaremovement.com/ Al Smith

    This is so true.  Great job Cayce.  Following you now. Need to work on a CARE guest post for you, Chris.  Thanks again for all you do.
     
    Al

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

       @Al Smith I would love that Al! Send it in. 

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @Al Smith Thanks for the compliment Al.  I have your page bookmarked and will check it out this weekend.

  • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

    Great post Cayce!  I love the way you broke down the actual cost of incompetence.  I’ve been there too many times, when they have to do the price check and hold the line forever, for me or for other customers.  I had a great experience one time at a department store.  We were looking for a wedding present and they had 25% on cookware. We asked if they would apply the same discount to small appliances, and the manager personally took care of us. We bought a set of frying pans at a great price and a small fryer for our home. He even carried our merchandise all the way out to the car!   He could have said the discount was not advertised that way, or that they could not apply it to other items in the kitchen department. We would have just bought the wedding gift.  Instead, he chose to gain our trust and provide outstanding service, made a bigger sale and had a happy customer.  Everyone wins this way!

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

       @lilykreitinger AAAAAAMEN! That’s the way to do it!

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

      @lilykreitinger THAT is the Wow experience Michael Hyatt is talking about!!

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @lilykreitinger And every business can go above and beyond like that!  Thanks for the compliment Lily!

    • http://LouiseThaxton.Net/ LouiseThaxton

       @lilykreitinger “The actual cost of incompetence…” Hmmmmm – pretty high price, sometimes isn’t it?!?  

  • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

    In the medical imaging industry, many people are scared about having an MRI or Cat Scan.  They don’t know anything about the test they are about to have, except that they will be changed into a gown and placed in a large, noisy tube for 15 minutes or more. They’re worried they might have a torn ACL.  A ruptured disc in their back.  Or cancer.  Or worse.  This test may potentially determine how the next few years of their life will change.
     
    For a 30 minute time slot, we often spend 15 minutes explaining the procedure to the patient, as well as reassuring them, making them comfortable, and tending to special needs as they arise.
     
    These factors, among several others, mean that we are almost always running behind.  (NOTE TO READERS:  Always request the first appointment of the day!)
     
    Our team has the ability to make decisive, swift choices regarding patient care (excluding changes to a doctor’s order), which exponentially reduces the need to say such things as “Let me go ask my supervisor”, or “I’ll have to go check with a doctor” .   More importantly, this helps us stay on or close to schedule.
     
    Our productivity and customer satisfaction would crumble without empowered team members.

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

       @skottydog  This is so huge, the fact that your customers are not there because they want to.  It’s the opposite! They want out of there as fast as they can.  I see how your team members’ sensitivity ,clarity and ability to make quick decisions is critical.  I laugh because now you’re going to have a bunch of people trying to get in for the first appointment.  However, it’s very serious business.  We need compassionate healthcare providers!!
       

      • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

         @lilykreitinger @ChrisLoCurto Agreed!  “Compassion” MUST be a part of healthcare, or you’re in the wrong business!
         
         And when I’m running 2 hours behind, and I’ve gotten my 9th or 10th irate customer in the room, here’s my patent response that defuses their anger every time:  “I’m sorry that we’re running so late.  We’ve had several patients today that required special attention.  I don’t rush anyone through their exam.  And now I’m with you, and nothing else matters to me right now BUT you.  I don’t care how long we take here, I’m not going to rush your study because we’re late.  It’s too important to both of us.”
         
        9.9 times out of 10, they leave happy.

        • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

          @skottydog @lilykreitinger @ChrisLoCurto LOVE that attitude Scott! That rocks!!

        • WorldDriveCoach

           @skottydog  @lilykreitinger  @ChrisLoCurto Love this!

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

       @skottydog And how much more is it important when it’s not a bout a $5 trinket? When it’s about something that will effect me for the rest of my life? 

    • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

      @skottydog That’s awesome Scott! In the end, empowered team members create more efficiency, even if it appears to take more time at the outset…and often it’s an important investment in the clientele

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @skottydog So many health care providers forget that patients are customers and have other options just like we do with grocery stores.  More serious business but the fundamentals are the same.

      • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

         @WorldDriveCoach Eerily the same.  In fact, I’ve heard patients referred to as “customers” more than once during meetings.  I know that’s the way it is, but it makes it seem more like a product and less like a service.

        • WorldDriveCoach

           @skottydog Medicine is a service I hold in high regard.  All of you that are involved provide health and life to the people in your communities.  Thank you for what you do.

        • http://www.indueseason.net skottydog

           @WorldDriveCoach Thank you.  Like the rest of us, we just try to “bring it” 100% every day!

  • http://www.jonahenry.com/ Jonathan Henry

    Chris has demonstrated a talent (yet again) for getting awesome guest posts. 
     
    My wife is a borderline extreme-couponer since the day we got married (way before TV shows started to make it more difficult). She finds the deals, makes a list, and sends me out to execute the super-saving plan. At first, we had problems like this all the time — employees wouldn’t know a store’s coupon policy, how to handle a coupon that was for more than the product, or the corporate IT-department didn’t update the product list of what was on sale. Many times we’ve had to explain policies, procedures, and a store’s weekly ad to employees. We were treated like criminals trying to defraud the store, and to the uneducated and newly hired team members their belligerence is justified thanks to the recent trends of coupon fraud and TV shows.
     
    Through the pain, we discovered rock stars at each store. Remarkable people. These people cared about what they were doing and were open to learning new experiences from customers. They actually built trust with their superiors and with us. They recognized us when we entered a store, made sure we were taken care of, and appreciated the feedback we gave to help them solve problems like advertised prices not working. They would flaunt their relationship with us to other employees, letting them know that we were awesome customers and using their relationship with us as a status symbol. We were star shoppers in their eyes, and obviously they were amazing employees.
     
    These employees are empowered not only with the ability to make minor decisions, but also with the heart to make relationships (which is HUGE). A loser store clerk is one that looks down at the scanner and at the computer screen the whole time totally disengaged from us as customers. A rock star knows that me and my wife don’t have kids and doesn’t treat us like crazy parents when we’re buying dozens of packs of diapers to donate or gift to others. Having relational employees really makes a difference!
     

    • http://www.lilykreitinger.com lilykreitinger

       @Jonathan Henry Awesome guest posts lead to awesome comments!  I love your story Jonathan.  I’ve heard many similar stories from my couponing friends (I’m not patient enough to do it well) and they get very frustrated when THEY have to explain the store policy to the cashiers.  I’m glad that you’ve found rockstar employees that know how to help you and don’t roll their eyes when you pull out your coupons.  I’m
       guessing they’re not the highest-paid employees, but if they perform their job with excellence, they are the store’s front-line. Some of them tend to take out their frustrations on customers. Not a smart way to spend your work day, even if you just want the j-o-b to pay your bills!
       

    • cabinart

       @Jonathan Henry If someone is a rock-star in a low paying job, chances are they won’t stick around too long.

      • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

         @cabinart  @Jonathan Henry True dat!!

    • http://ChrisLoCurto.com ChrisLoCurto

       @Jonathan Henry Isn’t it crazy that they can look at you like you’re trying to defraud the company?! That drives me crazy. YOUR company put this out, not me dork!

      • http://www.jonahenry.com/ Jonathan Henry

         @ChrisLoCurto It is even stranger that companies can often defraud manufacturers that issue coupons too. A long technical explanation follows:
         
        Massive retailers rarely have to prove they accepted coupons. Most major coupon distributors only require a company to send in an invoice for how many of product X they buy from the manufacturer, plus how many sales of product X to a consumer that “should” have a coupon on them. That is one reason why places double coupons. You buy a bar of soap with a 50 cent coupon doubled to a dollar, the retailer claims that two coupons were used and gets the dollar PLUS 16 cents back from the manufacturer for processing. If they claim more coupons than what they had in inventory, they simply order more product from the manufacturer. That is why it *should* be a win-win-win for manufacturer-retailer-consumer, but the retailer often gets in the way.

      • http://hardandsimple.blogspot.com/ Skropp

        @ChrisLoCurto @Jonathan Henry Ya dork! Haha. You crack me up Chris.

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @Jonathan HenryGreat story Jonathan!  Training is a whole other issue for many companies but it goes hand in hand with not empowering your front line.

    • WorldDriveCoach

       @Jonathan Henry Thanks so much for the compliment Jonathan!  I tried the extreme couponing thing briefly.  It was like having a second job!

  • http://www.jonahenry.com/ Jonathan Henry

    Chris has demonstrated a talent (yet again) for getting awesome guest posts. 
     
    My wife is a borderline extreme-couponer since the day we got married (way before TV shows started to make it more difficult). She finds the deals, makes a list, and sends me out to execute the super-saving plan. At first, we had problems like this all the time — employees wouldn’t know a store’s coupon policy, how to handle a coupon that was for more than the product, or the corporate IT-department didn’t update the product list of what was on sale. Many times we’ve had to explain policies, procedures, and a store’s weekly ad to employees. We were treated like criminals trying to defraud the store, and to the uneducated and newly hired team members their belligerence is justified thanks to the recent trends of coupon fraud and TV shows.
     
    Through the pain, we discovered rock stars at each store. Remarkable people. These people cared about what they were doing and were open to learning new experiences from customers. They actually built trust with their superiors and with us. They recognized us when we entered a store, made sure we were taken care of, and appreciated the feedback we gave to help them solve problems like advertised prices not working. They would flaunt their relationship with us to other employees, letting them know that we were awesome customers and using their relationship with us as a status symbol. We were star shoppers in their eyes, and obviously they were amazing employees.
     
    These employees are empowered not only with the ability to make minor decisions, but also with the heart to make relationships (which is HUGE). A loser store clerk is one that looks down at the scanner and at the computer screen the whole time totally disengaged from us as customers. A rock star knows that me and my wife don’t have kids and doesn’t treat us like crazy parents we’re buying dozens of packs of diapers to donate or gift to others. Having relational employees really makes a difference!