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Why is Empowerment So Difficult to Use?

No firm can be a service leader without empowerment. Empowerment means you have to bend rules and policies in favor of the customer. In my book, Empowerment: A Way of Life, I said everyone’s single, most important task every day is to have over happy customers. If you have over happy customers your competition is screwed… sales increase and customer loyalty soars. 

Employees and managers are usually frozen in time and unable to make fast decisions to help a customer. I suspect 80% of all empowered decisions are for $25 or less. Of this I estimate 80% are for under $10. If an employee has a choice between a rule, policy or procedure over the customer or making an empowered decision to help the customer to make them over happy…the policy always win.

All CEO’s love empowerment. Most believe their employees are empowered. In the last 35 years I have only met one CEO who disagreed with my definition of empowerment. That was the CEO of an airline in Kenya and they are out of business. The fact is that it is very rare for an employee to make an empowered decision even if there is NO cost to their company.

Empowerment is making a fast decision on the spot in favor of the customer. The customer must winIf you want to grow like Amazon, master empowerment. Last year they had a sales increase of $41.9 billion. I have in my life never heard an employee at Amazon say NO. Never have seen them ask for approval. Never. In my September Discover credit card there were 23 Amazon orders for a total of over $1600 (My daughter who lives in China was using Amazon to buy tons of stuff for our camping trip to the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota).

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and now the richest person in the world.  In the first six months of 2018 his net worth increased by over $45 billion which giving him a net worth of over $150 billion…so far! I have still never figured out why most companies do not want to copy the values and principles of Amazon. I guess Amazon is growing too fast for most companies in the world.

Amazon is now valued at over $1 trillion. The stock has surged this year 75% and added $430 billion to the company’s market capitalization. – about the size of Walmart, Costco and Target combined. It is the world’s most customer driven company. They are better at empowerment than any company in the world.

There are several reasons employees will NOT make empowered decisions.

  1. Almost all employees believe they will be fired if they make an empowered decision.  They KNOW they will lose their job. If you cannot overcome this fear you will never have an empowered workforce.
  2. Employees are concerned they will be forced to pay for what they gave away. Front line employees everywhere in the world are the least paid. They fear having to personally pay for what they give away to make the customer over happy. This is a fear. Not reality.
  3. They do not want to be screamed at or reprimanded. There is no upside. Their manager will chew them out.

To make empowerment work, managers and supervisors have to support and drive empowerment. I find many managers are young and the worst offenders of empowerment. If you really want an empowered work force all employees which includes everyone in any leadership role must be trained on empowerment.

 SQI has a 2 session program called Empowerment: A Way of Life that can change attitudes and teach the skills of customer service and empowerment. The link to the brochure is here.  It is available in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Greek and Bulgarian. There is no educational institution in the world that will teach empowerment. If you believe in empowerment and want to drive an empowered workforce then you must be willing to train and develop your entire workforce.

I will give you some recent examples of NO empowerment. This week I needed to get a haircut before leaving for Russia. I use an app from Great Clips. It tells me the wait time and makes a reservation for me. The wait was 33 minutes. I was driving from the north part of the Twin Cities to Bloomington where I live. I got there on Monday, Labor Day at 5:09 with about 7 minutes to go before my reservation time. The young employee said I was too late. I had to be in the door before 5 PM. “Come back another day”. No empowerment. They wanted to go home and the heck with the customer.

I like Papa Murphy’s pizza. They have a loyalty card which gives you a stamp each time you buy a pizza. After 12 stamps you get a free pizza with a value of $14. The card says good for one pizza. In the past employees would let me use this for $14 in pizza’s. I save these up for when my daughter and her family arrives from China. I had two pizza’s ordered for a value of $14. The employee said the coupon card could ONLY be used for one of the pizza’s. I asked to speak to the manager. She said she was the manager. About 24 years old. I went online to complain. NO response. I have not been back. The real cost for a pizza is maybe $1. I told her I would not be back but she really did not care. No empowerment. Keep in mind Papa Murphy might go broke if they allowed this to happen.

My company spends about $750 a month on gas at Holiday gas stations.  They have a reward program with a local supermarket chain and coupons for $.10 off a gallon. I spent about $36 on 13 gallons. When I went in to pay I never got credit for either. This was $1.30. I tend to be frugal. The employee said there was nothing she could do. I asked to speak to the manager. She said I am the manager. About 25 years old. She really did not care. I was a pain in the butt. She finally offered me the phone number for her manager who I called after I drove off. The manager said to go back and they would have $1.30 for me. This is a really large company with no empowerment.

Most employees are afraid the company will suffer financially if they make an empowered decision in favor of the customer. Many fear the CEO or owner will not have enough money to cover dinner that night.  Many managers fear the employee will give away the store. That our dishonest customers will take advantage of our young dishonest employees. Really stupid thinking but reality.

If you want to drive empowerment you have to be a role model. Celebrate everyone making an empowered decision. If you have an internal communication in each issue celebrate 1-2 wild empowered decisions by employees.

Most customers will never complain to the company. Surveys tend to be worthless. HR uses them because everyone else uses them I doubt if anyone does anything with the surveys. My wife will never complain but, she will also not be back!.

Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool you have. Empowerment is the least expensive way to leverage this. If you want to be a Service Leader you must have an empowered workforce.

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