Power to the People

Once upon a very long time ago, I was a call center agent. I worked in the customer service / delivery department of a local furniture chain. After three years of handling customer calls that ranged from people calling for their delivery time, to complaining of a tear on a 15-year-old couch, to returning recently delivered items, I learned one golden rule of the call center: knowledge and empowerment are key.

Over time, I had worked for the company longer than even most of my supervisors, and when I had a customer who really needed help, I would do everything in my power to move the earth to help a customer who needed it (waive delivery fees, beg to get something on an earlier truck, send the best service tech, etc.). I had the knowledge to identify the customers who really needed our TLC, but I didn't have the empowerment - everything had to go through my supervisors when we wanted to do something special. It didn't matter if the customer spent $50 or $50,000 furnishing their whole house - I couldn't differentiate the service level.

The keynote speaker at our user conference last year was a former Disney staffer - Doug Lipp - who told a story I've been thinking about for the year since. At Disney they empower the park staff to do one very simple thing for customers: refill a spilled popcorn. It's simple. It's cheap. It wins customers' hearts. It makes the employees feel amazing. That simple empowerment gives the employees the ability to help the customers who really need a special helping hand - without supervisor involvement.

Back to my call center days, it would have been amazing if I had been given a special empowerment that I could dole out as needed. It would have made the customers feel more like they had a great customer experience, and given me and my colleagues more of a feeling of control to help the customer outcome.

Take a look at your call center and see if you can give your employees an opportunity to refill the spilled popcorn. You might find a higher rate of first call resolution and overall satisfaction as a result.