John Tschohl of the Service Quality Institute writes that most CEO’s believe their employees are empowered. The description of empowerment for most companies is the following: ‘you are empowered to take care of the customer as long as it fits into the rules and policies we have’. But for empowerment to work, the employee must be willing to bend or break the rules.

The backbone of great service is empowerment. My definition is for any employee to make a fast-empowered decision on the spot in favour of the customer. No asking for approvals, no delays, no moving the request up the chain of command. Empowerment by far is the hardest skill to get employees to use. Front line employees are the most powerful when it comes to empowerment – what they do is magic.

There are four reasons why an employee is reluctant to use empowerment:

1. They know they will be fired.
2. They believe they will be forced to pay for what they gave away.
3. Many managers do not like empowerment because they feel they are not needed – they lose their power.
4. No one likes to be screamed at or put down. Rarely is an employee recognised for making a fast-empowered decision in favour of the customer.

Most empowered decisions are under R700 ($50) and I think the vast majority under R350 ($25). Often there is no cost. Not enough companies and employees understand the power of word of mouth advertising. Your single goal each day is to have over happy customers, this way you have them for life. They are resistant to advertising by your competitors. You want them to fall in love with you and your organisation.

I love Amazon and I prefer to call them when I have a problem. I have never had anyone at Amazon tell me ‘no’. Their employees are in call centres all over the world and all of them are awesome. Amazon increased sales 38% or $105 billion last year. You rarely see them advertise. They focus on repeat business and word of mouth advertising. They also love their customers. Customers prefer speed, price and great service. Master these skills so you become another Amazon.

How can you get employees to make empowered decisions?

1. Train everyone on empowerment. There are no schools in the world that will teach this skill. It is up to your organisation to train your entire staff. Remember that 99% of your customer contact is with front line employees who are often the least paid, least valued and least trained.

2. Recognition. You must celebrate each time you hear or see an employee making an empowered decision. The wilder the empowered decision the more you want to make a bigger deal out of it. Other employees will see the employee was not fired and got lots of recognition. With an empowered workforce, your organisation can reap the benefits experienced by Apple and Amazon.

Empowered employees have the power to make decisions without a supervisor. They are entitled to go off script, bend the rules and do what they see fit if they believe it is the right thing to do for the customer. If you are concerned they might give away the store, set a limit.

John Tschohl is a professional speaker, trainer, and consultant. He is the President and founder of Service Quality Institute with operations in over 40 countries. He is considered to be one of the foremost authorities on service strategy, success, empowerment and customer service.