Why Your Company Needs To Empower Its Front-Line Workers

Sometimes your front line workers are the only people your customers will ever see. Is the impression they are leaving on paying customers the one you really want to project?

I like to spend my money with businesses who value me as a customer, and I'm betting that I'm not alone. Yet every day, I seem to come across situations where employees appear to be begging me to take my business elsewhere. I had that experience yesterday at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Like most of you, I receive coupons in the mail from Bed Bath & Beyond. I get so many of these, that eventually I'm forced to take my wheelbarrow and cart these mailings out to the recycling bin. Of course this means that when I finally make the decision that it's time to replace an item in my bathroom, these coupons are no where to be found.

Yesterday, I decided to try an experiment. I went online and searched to see where I might find one of those highly treasured 20 percent off coupons. Low and behold, right on the Bed Bath & Beyond website I found the following: "First-time email subscribers get a 20% off one item in-store Savings Certificate! You will receive your in-store savings certificate with your welcome email shortly." I signed up, assuming that shortly meant within the next few minutes or at least within the hour. I tired of waiting and got in the car thinking that eventually this e-mail would come in on my phone and I could show it to the cashier at the store.

Eventually, the e-mail came into my in-box while en route to the store. I made a fatal error in assuming the cashier would be able to take one look at the e-mail on my iPhone and immediately apply the discount to my purchase. After all, isn't this how you treat valuable customers, especially if they have just signed up to be part of your community? You would think so, but instead he kept telling me that he could only take a printed coupon and that I could come back at any time to claim my discount. I found this quite humorous, as he was assuming that I might actually set foot in his store again after being treated like a number rather than like a valuable customer.

Eventually, I asked to speak with the manager, who was happy to honor my request, although that was after he complained about how antiquated and slow their e-mail system actually was. I left shaking my head vowing to find another place to make similar purchases.

Most people would simply chalk this up to entry-level employees who are trained to do nothing more than what they are told. But I'm not most people. I'm sure there are dozens of other companies that empower their front line employees to do what is necessary to delight their customers because this is how you build customer loyalty. Some retailers, like Ann Taylor, will gladly look up your account and apply whatever discount offers you may have received in the mail.

As you look at your own business models, do so from the perspective of the customer, who today has a great number of choices regardless of where they live. What processes have you put into place that are preventing your front line people from being able to make decisions that don't require them to repeat an antiquated company mantra? Are you hiring people who are worthy of representing your company brand? Are you promising people a level of service that you simply can't deliver or are unwilling to provide?

The holiday buying season will soon be upon us. You can bet that I will be checking my list twice and will avoid those retailers who have been behaving badly this year. I hope you will do the same.

—Roberta Chinsky Matuson is an internationally recognized expert on increasing profitability by maximizing employee contribution. Her website is matusonconsulting.com. She is the author of Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around, a Washington Post Top-­5 Leadership pick. Download a free bonus chapter. Her new book, The Magnetic Workplace: How to Hire Top Talent That Will Stick Around will be published in 2013. Sign up to receive a subscription to Roberta’s complimentary newsletter, The Talent Maximizer.

[Image: Lynn Friedman]

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