Subscribe to access world-class global resources and education: Subscribe
Subscribe to access world-class global resources and education: Subscribe

Worldly Wise


Empower Your Customer-Facing Team to Handle Complaints

By Janelle Barlow, Ph.D.

However, what happened next was not customer service at all. In fact, everything could’ve been prevented if the customer-facing associate I was talking to had a little empowerment. 

What about your global payroll team members? Are they empowered to make important decisions on behalf of your customers without seeking permission for situations that step outside the norm? Let’s get back to what happened to me that day to unfold the problem at hand.

As I waited to make the phone transaction, the associate indicated the store’s computer files showed it had two pallets of this particular product right in stock. So I closed the deal, happily visualizing new wood floors. But a few hours later—after taking my order, my credit card number, and giving me a transaction code—the store discovered that the two pallets had been mislabeled. It didn't have any more of the product I purchased. 

When the store called me with the bad news, it offered to order more for me at the original list price, a price that was more than twice its special bargain. The employee also suggested I could buy an alternative product, again at more than twice the price I thought I was going to pay. 

The young sales clerk who had arranged the sale for me told me it was the computer’s fault. Then she finished off with a killer argument: “I can't help you. I'm just an associate. You'll have to talk with my manager.” 

Having heard the “must talk with my manager” before, I knew the routine. I would be transferred to another number and told to leave a voice message. Whether I would actually receive a callback has always been highly problematic. Armed with this experience, I insisted the clerk talk with the manager for me.

After being placed on hold for some time, the associate came back to inform me that the manager agreed to “split the difference” between my purchase price and what the store now wanted to charge me. 

I indicated this was not satisfactory. I had already completed my sale, and now they wanted to charge me more. More talking was needed.

The sales associate again put me on hold to talk with her manager. This time I waited significantly longer. Finally, she came back on the line to tell me they would sell me the product as contracted. Some of you might think that I should be satisfied. Certainly, I felt better than if I had been denied my flooring at the price promised. 

However, I felt mishandled and not treated as a valued customer. I also felt, as a customer service observer, that the sales associate undersold herself, or perhaps her management team had not discussed how to handle this type of situation. It’s called empowerment. Without empowerment, everything out of the normal routine must go back to the manager. Small wonder that so many managers feel overwhelmed by having to deal with issues that should not be on their plates in the first place.

What exactly is empowerment? If you think about its link to strategy, it’s teaching staff to deliver on your organization’s strategies. Empowerment is the clout you provide to your staff to meet one of your most critical deliverables—happy customers who want to return to do more business with you. 

Empowerment is more than delegation; it’s about sharing power. Empowered staff will be spontaneous when they take care of customers. This may require tweaking policies on occasion. While handling transactions is important, noticing patterns of behaviors involves mental discretion. 

At the end of the day, empowerment can result in a huge time savings, more satisfied customers, and team members who are more engaged because their intelligence and personalities are less constrained. 

The clerk who was “helping” me said that she couldn't help me. Actually, she could and did because she obviously spoke up on my behalf to her manager. But by framing it as, “I'm only a sales associate. You'll have to talk with my boss,” she disempowered herself. And this started a dynamic between the two of us where I had to push to get what was promised to me.

What she might have said was: “I'm going to help you and talk with my manager about this. He may wish to talk with you, but if you could hold for just a moment, I think I can give you a message directly.” 

No doubt this woman was acting as the liaison between me and her boss. But she was not without power, nor was she without the ability to help. Obviously, in her last discussion with her boss, she must have presented my case in such a way that he agreed to honor the store's commitment. 

If she had taken the latter approach, then I would have been able to graciously thank her for her help. As it was, I felt almost no motivation to thank her. After all, she would not have done anything at all if I hadn’t pushed her. 

Now think about your global payroll team members. Are they empowered to make important decisions on behalf of your customers without seeking permission for situations that step outside the norm? If you think about what customers want, they want people who have the confidence and power to help them directly. And this, in turn, increases self-esteem on everyone’s part.

Be sure to take the time to empower your global payroll team members. They’ll thank you as will your customers.

JanelleBarlowJanelle Barlow, Ph.D., is a businesswoman, author, media spokesperson, keynote speaker, and seminar leader with more than 30 years of experience in the global marketplace. She is President and Owner of TMI US and TACK-USA, both partners with a multi-national global training and consulting firm.