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This Is the Biggest Customer Service Mistake You’re Making — And How To Fix It Fast

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you want to move from middle-of-the-road, ho-hum customer service to the kind of exceptional customer service exemplified by great customer service-oriented brands like Ritz-Carlton, you’re only going to get there if you get serious about employee empowerment. There’s simply no way around this.

Once you’ve assembled your team, provided them with customized and high-quality customer service training, and immersed them in both the essence of your company’s philosophy and essential nuts-and-bolts customer service standards, giving them the autonomy to execute their roles effectively is crucial.

When the leash is pulled too tight, employees feel stifled and hindered in their ability to deliver their best work. Instead, encourage them to apply their unique style and strengths to bring the benefits of exceptional customer service to your customers.

Related: Don’t Mistake a Frequent Customer With a Loyal Customer

Empowerment: A driving force behind exceptional customer service

Allowing employees properly trained in customer service to strive for excellence in their own way not only boosts their confidence but also allows them to take ownership of their role, leading to increased job satisfaction. In essence, allow your employees the space to breathe, grow, and shine. Trust them to use their judgment to make decisions that align with your company’s values and customer service goals. This approach can lead to a vibrant and effective customer service culture where employees feel valued, customers feel cared for, and your business thrives.

Exceptional customer service is an art that requires not just adherence to established protocols but also the freedom for talented and well-trained employees to interpret and implement those standards in a way that best serves the customer.

These employees, empowered and trusted by the organization, act as interpreters of your company’s customer service ethos. They decode the abstract concept of “exceptional customer service” and bring it to life through their actions, interactions, and decisions.

Because every customer and situation is unique, empowered employees must flexibly apply customer service principles rather than rigidly adhering to a one-size-fits-all approach. This ability to tailor their service based on each customer’s specific needs and expectations is what defines exceptional customer service.

By fostering an environment that encourages such interpretation and personalization, companies can ensure that their customer service is efficient, consistent, personal, empathetic, and genuinely exceptional.

And if they lack empowerment — power, really — they’ll remain hobbled, no matter how good their intentions.

When a leader encourages pro-customer efforts, most everything else will fall in place, with employees eagerly contributing their elective efforts time and again. Conversely, if a company’s leadership doesn’t provide such encouragement and leeway — if it rules with excessive rigidity — these unyielding ways will, over time, blight your organization in the eyes of its customers. An employee cannot fully contribute to an organization and the service of its customers without being empowered.

Need more proof that empowerment is essential for superior customer service? Consider these points:

  • A supervisor or manager can’t be present at every moment to guide customer interactions.
  • Likewise, a checklist or “thou shalt/shalt not” list of commandments (i.e., “best practices”) can’t come anywhere close to covering all possible eventualities. Even if it could, it wouldn’t be able to do so with the same kind of nuance as a human being who is face-to-face or on the telephone with a customer. In other words, an empowered employee is the only force that can be agile—that can adjust in real-time (or better than real-time, if they’re being anticipatory) to what a customer needs or hopes for in the moment.
  • Empowerment is essential for bringing a purpose-driven culture to life. Without empowerment, you’re giving mixed messages: on the one hand, instructing your employees to pursue a pro-customer purpose, but on the other, not giving them the power to do so.
  • Empowerment is a remarkable human development tool. How can an employee ever know—and how can the leader of that employee ever know—what that employee is capable of until they’re given the leeway to demonstrate their potential?

Related: How to Turn Micromanagement Into Empowerment and Unlock True Employee Satisfaction

It’s an employee’s job to be empowered

Since the term “empowerment” became the buzziest of buzzwords, some companies seem to think empowerment—or at least lip service that features the word—is something they can sprinkle atop an otherwise hollow culture and magically get results in a pixie dust–like fashion. But empowerment needs to be something a company’s leadership believes in, embraces, practices, and does everything it can to embed within the company culture.

If you believe in employee empowerment, one of the keys to conveying this is to make it clear that it is not an add-on, a nice-to-have-sometimes kind of thing. Instead, empowerment is every employee’s job.

By extension, every employee must use their empowerment, day in and day out, which turns it into a powerful force.

Letting go of the reins and handing them off to employees is indisputably hard. But there’s no way around it. Empowering employees is essential if you want to achieve iconic, bottom-line-building customer service — and it will profoundly contribute to employee morale, retention, and recruitment.

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