Empowering your front line staff

Empowering your front line staff – Customer Services in the chain of events.

by Devyani Patel, February 20, 2012

After a recent trip within Asia, one could not help but to observe the number of businesses encountered on a journey.

From the point of booking your tickets online, to credit card reservations, purchasing your travel necessities, taxi pickup, airport check-in, security, on-board services to arriving in a foreign country and the same services are required – security, passport checks, baggage services, taxi, hotel check-in, bell services; to finally room service, and it doesn’t end there. If simply counting the number of business services one has to experience, one thing in common among all these businesses is the front-line staff representation. As a customer on their journey, it would only take one hiccup in this well planned journey or a bad experience to bring down the whole travel experience and/or impact other business services.

A recent experience of a travel agent booking the tickets under their own credit card after charging the customer caused a major mishap at check-in – credit card reservation did not match the booking and therefore boarding was not permitted due to the airlines policies.  Aside from the quick decision making needed by the customer: either purchase new full fare tickets or cancel the trip; the front line staff handling in such instances is just as important – how does your staff handle an irate or confused customer? Do they have the authority to bypass policies?  In this instance, the issue caused by a business early in the booking stage of this journey (the booking agent) had to be handled by the front-line staff of the airline… personal attention, calming the customer, assisting the customer to the gate upon last call of the flight to ensure the flight is not missed and ensuring the luggage makes the flight are all critical steps in servicing the customer.  What could be worse? The customer purchases the tickets again and misses the flights or luggage does not arrive?

Going this extra step is key in understanding your role as a business in the chain of effects – Does your staff know that their role plays an important part in the chain aside from a day to day job? A distressed customer is your biggest verbal marketer – handle the situation well, assist in crisis when it’s not even a fault of your business and reconnect the planned journey are steps that fall upon all the front-line staff in the service industry at every point of the chain. Such impact requires the skills of understanding the customer with empathy, critical thinking and staff empowerment with initiative.  Have your staff been trained to handle unknown situations in particular those not caused by your own company? Does your company policies allow for manoeuvring? As a budget airline, one would expect the support offered by the front line staff to move the customer aside and onto the next.  Luckily this did not happen. The front line staff are the face of the company. Their quick-thinking skills should not be assumed, but empowered by your policies, management and leadership.

Now, a question resides on the business to business awareness. How is it possible that an agent, whose core business is to act as a middle man serving the customer and airline, not know the policies instilled by the airline? Even the email reservation clearly quotes “Please ensure you have the credit card used for the booking”. The customer service agent who promised a call back to the customer; never followed up on the promise.  In the world of business, there are three simple words in trust:

1) Know your business and the policies of your alliances, the industry, what’s changing and why.

2) Integrity - A simple promise to call is your word of honour. Customer empathy and care strikes here again. It is important to acknowledge the issues regardless of who is it fault. If your customer calls you with a problem, follow up is critical in gaining customer confidence.  It’s the difference between trusts with return business vs bad verbal marketing.

3) Delivery - Even when you have failed to deliver, up your game and go the extra mile! What, can you offer a customer to ensure they do not continue to live the bad experience over months and years of coffee conversations and social chit chat? The best marketing punch line is when a company comes through –mistakes will happen but the beauty of mistakes are lessons learned and putting the ‘icing on the cake’. That extra surprise and unexpected service especially delivered for the customer. Often, it doesn’t cost much, but just a little time and attention from one of your front line staff to reconnect with the customer, whether it is a personal call, voucher on their next trip or a personal letter - the power of personal attention is priceless in the world of customer service.

The consequence understanding business to business services as well as business to customer service is equally important. As a business if we are in the chain of events, we are representing the industry. A successful industry is based on the businesses that support it – a successful business is dependent on the staff that support it and good well trained staff deliver happy customers. Empower your staff and develop decision making, critical thinking and personal satisfaction. While the front-line staff takes the heat from an irate customer, It’s the customer that will also praise your front-line staff for their skills and a job well managed.