Jeff Toister, on behalf of ProcedureFlow, shares his advice for empowering the contact centre team through creating clear processes and procedures.
What are your agents empowered to do for customers?
One agent at an apparel retailer got a call from a customer who had received the wrong shirt. It was the correct item number, but a different color.
The shirt was below a certain dollar value, so the agent was empowered to let the customer keep the incorrect shirt at no charge. He then ordered a replacement in the correct color and promised the customer would receive it in a few days.
This simple act turned a service failure into a customer delight.
Delighting the customer would not have been possible if the agent did not have clear procedures to guide him. Here’s how procedures play an essential role in agent empowerment.
What Is Agent Empowerment?
I researched customer-focused organizations while writing The Service Culture Handbook. Time after time, I discovered elite companies went to great lengths to empower their employees.
The surprise was how customer-focused companies define empowerment.
It’s more than just authority. Empowered agents are enabled to provide exceptional service. They are given the ability to do their jobs well and keep customers happy.
There are three things that enable agents to consistently deliver outstanding customer service:
The agent who replaced the wrong colored shirt had the authority to send a replacement at no cost, but he also needed resources and procedures to make it happen:
- Resource: The correct shirt had to be in stock.
- Procedure: A no-charge replacement order had to be entered into the system and the inventory accounted for.
How Can Procedures Empower Agents?
There are a number of ways that procedures enable agents to provide outstanding customer service. This includes following best practices and maintaining consistency.
The support agents at a software company had the authority to spend as much time on the phone as necessary to solve a customer’s issue.
For example, a recent problem regularly took about 30 minutes to solve. Agents were able to help the customer without feeling pressured to end the call quickly.
One agent discovered another way to solve the issue in just five minutes. She shared the new procedure with the rest of the team in a weekly team meeting.
The rest of the team was now empowered to delight busy customers by solving the issue much faster than before:
- Authority: Spend as much time with a customer as necessary.
- Resource: Team meetings to share best practices.
- Procedure: How to solve the new issue in just 5 minutes.
A chain of car dealerships gave its agents the authority to authorize loaner vehicles for customers when setting service appointments. Some would proactively ask customers if they needed a loaner vehicle, while other agents would wait for customers to mention it.
This created a problem where service departments could not predict how many loaner vehicles would be needed each day. They often ran out, which created a service failure for customers.
The dealerships improved service by creating a consistent procedure for setting service appointments:
- Confirm the expected service time with the customer.
- Give the customer the option of a loaner vehicle or a free Uber ride.
- Reserve a loaner vehicle if necessary.
The new procedure enabled agents to create a more consistent service experience for customers:
- Authority: Reserve a loaner vehicle for service customers.
- Resource: Loaner vehicles available at the dealer.
- Procedure: Schedule a loaner vehicle when setting the appointment.
What Procedures Can You Document?
Take a moment to identify situations where clear procedures can enable your agents to provide better service. Here are a few examples:
- Inconsistent answers are given to customer questions.
- A supervisor is needed to solve common problems.
- Agents are not aware of best practices.
Documenting clear procedures will help your agents serve customers more effectively. All agents will serve customers the same way, whether it’s a senior agent with many years of experience or someone just out of training.
It’s a best practice to get agent input on procedures to make sure they are easy to find and easy to use. Some contact centers even have agents write or update procedures as they discover a new solution, using a standard template to ensure consistency.
A supervisor or subject matter expert can review each procedure before it goes live to verify accuracy.
Procedures can also help agents navigate unusual situations.
Remember the agent who replaced the incorrect shirt for a customer? It was not clear what caused the error.
The website might have had the wrong photo, the fulfillment center might have had the shirts mixed up in storage, or a worker might have picked the wrong shirt by mistake.
Fortunately, the agent had a procedure for alerting the appropriate departments to the error so they could investigate the root cause.
That empowered the agent to help more than just one customer. Reporting the error enabled him to ensure future customers did not experience the same service failure.