Customer centricity without empowerment is like a power-generating dam without water — you must have both to achieve the desired result. Empowerment taps into the potential of a human being to do more than what is typically defined by their job description. Empowerment allows that individual to take initiative, to show courage, to speak up and to make things better. Also, it allows them to act as capable adults, not machines on a prescribed path.
When employees are empowered, organizations can adapt, flourish, respond immediately to outside forces and identify key factors it would never have known about before they become problems or issues. This type of organization allows its people to focus on the customer experience in a way that cannot be achieved with standard customer-service policies and procedures. Customers, like all of us, are individuals — idiosyncratic and unpredictable. So they must be treated as individuals in order to give them the best possible experience. To do so requires that all employees, regardless of whether they are customer-facing or not, are empowered to make the best decisions and take the right actions for their customers.
This is especially important today, because organizations are expected to provide an increasing amount of personalization. A recent study found that 80 percent of surveyed customers were more likely to do business with a company that offered personalized experiences. Empowerment is essential in providing a personalized experience because if employees are limited to a specific set of guidelines, they are unable to respond to customer needs in a unique fashion. By empowering your workforce, you enable them to do what they know they should do: care about the customer experience, own the customer experience and, where appropriate, do something to impact that customer experience.
It is important to recognize that building an empowering culture is an initiative, and needs to be treated as such, not just as an addition to building a customer-centric culture. If customer centricity is a corporate priority for your organization, but you do not currently have an empowered workforce, create an initiative that is a blend of empowerment and customer centricity. By giving both the necessary attention, you can create a customer-centric culture that changes the way your company does business, how customers interact with you and how the world sees you.
True empowerment allows you to release the potential of employees at all levels and roles, which earns you results far greater than those you will achieve if you simply instruct them in any given scenario. Here are five guidelines for managing empowered employees as you take your own journey to customer centricity.
1. Initiate frequent, honest, open communication.
Communication must be open and honest between leadership and empowered employees. Employees are not truly empowered if they are missing information that would help them act in the best interests of the customer. Therefore, it is imperative that there is trust built so that both leaders and team members feel safe, share key communication messages and are free to express their thoughts, ideas and feelings during the process of creating a customer-centric culture.
2. Seek feedback.
By constantly seeking feedback and initiating discussions with an empowered workforce, you keep the door open to individuals to bring up ideas, identify patterns in customer feedback and prevent problems from developing. When individuals propose ideas to improve the customer experience, it is important to let them know whether their ideas will be explored, and if not, why not. This way, employees feel heard, which encourages them to continue to bring ideas forward.
3. Provide clear and focused vision and direction.
Empowerment can only exist within the context of the organizational vision and direction. Sharing a clear vision and direction related to customer centricity helps individuals to confidently execute their tasks and responsibilities in ways that support that common vision.
4. Provide training and skill development.
Empowered employees will constantly be growing, so it is important to work with them to provide necessary opportunities for training and development. This helps everyone to accelerate their ability to contribute to their fullest, while helping them to continue to improve and feel challenged.
5. Clearly define boundaries, then allow autonomy within them.
In order to maximize the potential of these increasingly empowered employees, it is important to be clear about boundaries so employees know when they have the authority to take personal action and when it is appropriate to bring an idea to their leader. As each individual demonstrates more experience, track record and knowledge, it is important to re-examine boundaries and expand them as appropriate so the individual feels challenged, trusted and able to contribute effectively to the customer experience.
Related: How to Become More Customer-Centric
The hallmark of a successful customer-centricity initiative is when every decision that every employee makes is to the benefit of the customer, creating an experience with your organization that leaves them wanting more. Employees can only do this if they are empowered to make appropriate decisions when necessary. When you put the effort into empowering your workforce, you might be surprised at how quickly your organization will embrace a culture of customer centricity.
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