The past two weeks we've discussed empowerment and some real-life examples of how empowering staff and empowering front line management can benefit the organisation and generate satisfied customers. But beyond the company and customers, there's a third group, a central one in every story that deserves recognition: the employees.
How do employees feel when they produce positive outcomes for the company and particularly for customers? Undoubtedly thrilled! And as a result, their personal connection and commitment to the organisation is strongly enhanced.
Through the personal connection and commitment that comes from empowering its staff, management can build employee engagement – a crucial factor to growing positive customer relations and increasing bottom line performance.
Of course empowering your employees is only one factor that goes into increasing staff engagement – there's no one magic bullet for engaging employees. That's where our practical leadership program, 'Leadership In Action', can help your organisation's managers develop the street-smarts to effectively and consistently engage their people.
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Last week we discussed the benefits of empowering employees, and a real-life example of the tactic allowing an employee to not only avert disaster but produce a positive outcome. After the blog was published we discussed the issue of empowerment and accountability with other business colleagues. One of the recurring themes was how important it is for any business with employees who are in face to face contact with customers to feel they have the power to ensure customer service can be handled effectively and quickly. There are many everyday situations where front line employees need to be empowered to make decisions, like this one:
Two weeks ago, a colleague was supermarket shopping at Woolworth's where he chose a product off the shelf which he thought was marked down by 50%. At the checkout it scanned at the full price, so a little frustrated he made a complaint to the checkout staff who called for a price check by a supervisor. When the supervisor returned she showed our colleague the marked down product; it was different to the one he'd chosen. The supervisor realised this customer didn't want the alternate product and would end up not buying either of them. Thinking quickly she marked the first product down by 50% and completed the sale.
The actions of this quick thinking floor supervisor demonstrated the empowerment she had to make decisions regarding processes that occur every day on the supermarket floor. And she felt accountable to use that empowerment. Management had instilled in her a strong company ethic and trained her to improve every customer interaction. Her actions had led our colleague to raise this story with us, and others, creating positive word of mouth for the company. When this sort of accountability happens in a business it creates loyal (and returning) customers. When it doesn't happen, customers may be deeply annoyed by the lack of understanding from the supervisor, and the company.
However a process like this doesn't just appear in a company, as if by magic. It has to be believed in and pursued from the top down, through all levels of the company; executives, middle management, front line management and customer service employees. Training is a key factor involved in ensuring all levels of the business know how such a culture will improve not only the company's customer relations but also its bottom line!
The other day a work colleague shared a great story with me, one that illustrates the value of empowerment:
A couple of years ago, the colleague took a family trip to Disneyland. This was his first time in the Los Angeles area, so he was completely unfamiliar with the city. Prior to his departure, he called Marriott, told them that he was staying at the Marriott "in LA" and asked if the hotel provided transportation from the airport. He was told that they did and was given instructions for how to find the shuttle bus once he landed.
Exiting the terminal at 11pm, he and his family found the Marriott shuttle bus. But when he told the driver they were staying at the Marriott in Irvine, the driver said the bus didn't go there! Upset, but realising this was no time to argue, he and his family got off the bus and into a cab.
Imagine his rude surprise when he found out the cab would cost $100! Unbeknownst to him, Irvine was over an hour away! Now he wasn't just upset – he was furious. A trip that he thought would cost him nothing would now be $100.
Well past midnight, they finally got to the Marriott. My colleague was fuming, so when welcomed by the night clerk, he angrily recounted the entire story. Without getting flustered, the clerk calmly asked how much the cab fare was and then said, "Sir, our manager will contact you in the morning."
My colleague didn't expect much from the manager, maybe a few breakfast vouchers, as he didn't have a receipt for the $100. So imagine his surprise when he woke up the next morning to find an envelope waiting for him at reception with $100! He was completely blown away, and Marriott's standing with him was not just salvaged but elevated.
To me, this is an excellent example of how the empowerment of employees can be of significant value to an organisation. Management can prepare for all sorts of scenarios and implement protocols on how employees should respond, but most situations, especially those involving customer service, are unpredictable. So how do you deal with those? You put trust in your people (with the right training, of course!) and empower them to make decisions in the moment.
This night clerk working the graveyard shift – probably one of the most junior people at this hotel – was given the authority to assess my colleague's situation and make a promise to him, fully confident that it would be supported by the manager the following morning. And that manager the next morning was equally confident that he could refund $100 to an irritated customer without being questioned by corporate.
Through these actions, the night clerk and manager avoided creating a disgruntled customer who would never stay at a Marriott again and share his negative experience with many. But more importantly, he created a customer who now calls Marriott his hotel of choice! What business wouldn't spend $100 for a lifetime worth of patronage?
In the years prior to the global financial crisis, too many salespeople across the world had unconsciously fallen into the habit of becoming order takers. In other words, many sectors of business were so good their products and services sold themselves.
But no longer. The competitive environment in the new global economy is cutthroat, and it's the sales force – not the product itself – that will differentiate one competitor from another.
Clearly, not all businesses have adjusted to the times. Maybe they're not capable of adjusting. We see that businesses can become too focused on sales numbers rather than the capabilities of their sales force that produces the numbers. The reason for this: "Most CEO's have little or no sales experience. Consequently, they tend to think of sales as... a 'black box'." It would appear these senior executives have little idea how sales works. So they simply set goals and demand improved sales, with no thought put into how to improve sales. The most indicting line: "Sales effectiveness is typically not seen as a competitive advantage worthy of executive attention."
But in today's market, your competitive advantage is your sales effectiveness. The article cites that sales effectiveness accounts for 39% of customers' buying decisions!
If your salespeople are as important to the buying decision as the product itself, then it's time management embraced sales effectiveness, shunned the 'black box' view and invested in their sales force via ongoing sales training, coaching, tools and support.
Many senior managers lack sales experience, and as a direct result they fail to appreciate the critical importance of sales leadership and the demands placed on it.
Those of us who manage salespeople have different challenges than other managers. Sales management is different and it's different for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the amount of accountability salespeople must deal with – more so than practically any other employee. Sales is results oriented, so the numbers are either there or they're not.
Often a sales representative will be in a territory by themselves, carrying the responsibility of the company's success in that area, and sales managers must have the skills to help them deal with that pressure. More broadly, salespeople operate under the constant scrutiny of the management team and are held accountable for the continued sales success of the business. The output of no other job is so immediately visible, transparent and tangible. There is no place to hide.
In addition to this accountability, sales managers are the only managers who manage people in a commercial environment who are afraid. And salespeople are afraid. Unlike almost any other occupation – be it an engineer, an accountant or a secretary – salespeople come to work afraid. Salespeople face the unknown every day, and are consistently challenged by a different ditch to cross, a different fire to put out, and always, numbers that must be achieved.
You may think this fear is only relevant to new salespeople, who lack experience and confidence. But so often, as Steve Brown relates in our sales management training program, our most senior, most successful salespeople are also afraid. These individuals so often fear they can't maintain the level of productivity they've had, so they also find themselves under pressure. And without exception every member of the team knows that if they say or do the wrong thing they risk losing a major account. So once again managers must have the skills to deal with the fear, the unknown, that our people face on a daily basis.
How can the management team – not just sales managers – help salespeople cope with these fears and not let it derail their success, and that of the company? We'll discuss this critical management issue further in later blogs.