Customer Service Excellence Through Empowering Staff

'Spending Money & Keeping the Change'

14 February 2023
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
Short stories with key learning points for personal development and professional development. Often to make you smile, and always to make you think.
Fine examples of how excellent customer care can result when front line staff are trusted with a budget and how to spend it

I once heard about an American chain of hotels (I can’t remember which) that gives each of its staff a $5 a day allowance for customer service – 25 dollars a week. Each staff member has to account for this spend, but can choose to spend it any way he or she sees fit, so long as it adds value to the customer experience.

Some examples:

A receptionist overheard a couple checking in discussing where to eat that evening, since it was their 25th wedding anniversary. The receptionists pooled their day’s allowance to send a bouquet of flowers to the couple’s room.

As a bell hop was taking a couple’s luggage to their room, he overheard the husband moaning to himself that he had left his golfing magazine on the table at home. The bell hop popped out to the local paper store, bought the magazine and delivered it to the husband.

A power cut wiped out a major New Zealand city, an hour before a key world cup rugby match, featuring New Zealand, was about to be played. One fan contacted the desk, almost in despair, asking how long the power would be down. The receptionist didn’t know, but had an idea….her brother lived on another part of the island. She phoned him, and the power was on where he lived. She got him to video the match, and get on his motorbike to bring the tape to the hotel – 50 miles away. Her dollars allowance would pay for the fuel. She told the guest what she had arranged, and asked him not to listen to any radio commentary….!

The guest got to watch the whole match, as if live, two hours later…

There can be huge benefits to empowering staff in this way – for the customer, for the staff, and of course, for the organisation itself.


People will often step up to the mark, and provide exceptional service, once they have a say it what 'exceptional' means

There are several take aways from this story:

  • Trust
  • Deeds, not words
  • Working or investing
  • Adults at work
  • Reputation

Empowerment means trust

The willingness of management to let go of control, and leave it to their staff to make sensible decisions on behalf of the customers and, by extension, the organisation. That’s what happened here, to everyone’s benefit: the staff, as well as their customers and the organisation. Everyone feels better. It may even drive up performance, in that staff may want to think of really powerful, creative and customer centred ways of spending their $5. It may even encourage teamwork, in that individual staff can group together to share their $5 allowance…

Deeds, not words

Too often perhaps, lip service is paid to major sentiments like ‘empowerment’. Words are easy, and often appear in mission statements, policies, publicity and posters on the wall. So for example, this hotel chain could have said they were an empowering organisation, through any of those outlets, and yet fail to deliver empowerment ‘on the ground’. Customers and staff are only likely to talk positively about ‘empowerment’ if that is their lived experience. You will not hear staff or customers telling friends and relatives about the excellent posters on empowerment, or how much the mission statement endorses it. But they will talk about their experience – and they may not even mention the word ‘empowerment’ – but it is there for all to see.

Working or investing

Of course any service industry will want their staff to be ‘customer focused’; staff may even have attended training sessions to further reinforce the message, and even develop key ‘customer care skills’. But to many staff, perhaps, what they do is simply ‘a job’, perhaps passively. But give the same people $5 a day to invest in the customer, that’s different. Now what the staff are doing is not working for the customer, so much as investing in the customer. This time it’s a personal contract: something tangible, something given and received. And most people will take care in making an investment. It matters, is visible, and noticeable.

Treat your employees like adults, not children

In this example, staff are being treated as adults (rather than as is sometimes the case, as children). They have been given each of the following: an amount to spend; decisions to make; a choice to be made; ownership; responsibility; accountability. All typically associated with adults. And on the whole, most adults really want to be treated as adults.

Working for or investing in?

Of course any service industry will want their staff to be ‘customer focused’; staff may even have attended training sessions to further reinforce the message, and even develop key ‘customer care skills’. But to many staff, perhaps, what they do is simply ‘a job’, perhaps passively. But give the same people $5 a day to invest in the customer, that’s different. Now what the staff are doing is not working for the customer, so much as investing in the customer. This time it’s a personal contract: something tangible, something given and received. And most people will take care in making an investment. It matters, is visible, and noticeable.

Reputation

It’s well known that most dissatisfied customers don’t complain to the organisation – they complain to friends, relatives and colleagues. And the same is true of a positive experience: people are really happy to share that experience with others. And this story is a great example of that. I’ve heard about it, even though I live in the UK; and friends and relatives who hear about this service are likely to put this chain at the top of their ‘booking a hotel’ options list - and from this perspective alone it seems like $5 well spent!

Effective Storytelling - Podcast
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