Hire people you're willing to trust. Then trust them.
I called my bank the other day to ask them to reverse a service charge. Technically, the charge was my fault. But given the details of the situation, I felt I had a good case for waiving the fee. My optimistic self thought I'd spend a few minutes explaining the case to a customer service rep, before pleading my case to a supervisor.
Much to my delight, the customer service rep refunded the service charge. She said, "Mr. Watson, even though the bank policy is to enforce the service charge, I think your situation is unique, so I'm going to credit your account."
In that instance, my view of the bank changed from a faceless institution that knew me as an account number, to a group of reasonable, understanding people that actually cared about me. They created a happy memory for me, and a story that I wanted to tell.
What exactly did my bank do, that other customer service organizations don't? They let their first level agents make a judgment call.
When a first-level customer service agent is allowed to make a judgement call, it impacts the customer three important ways:
The customer's anxiety is immediately diffused.
When a customer calls to right what they feel is a wrong, they're already fueled with negative emotions. When the CSR isn't allowed to say "Yes," their default response is "No." And the "No" response will only increase anxiety. Giving that first person the right to say "yes" when it's warranted, can quickly diffuse the anger before it increases.
The customer sees the company differently.
When a first-level CSR is able to meet the customers need, that tells the customer that the company is focused on the customer; not themselves and their policies. And this kind of impression is what builds loyalty.
The customer's time is respected.
The only thing worse than feeling you've been treated unfairly is having to spend a lot of precious time correcting the issue. When first-level agents are empowered to make more decisions, the customer isn't forced to spend even more time at level two. Customers can feel the difference.
What was refreshing was the fact that a CSR was allowed to make a judgement call, apply naturally common sense, and delight the customer. Too often, CSR's are trained to enforce policy rather than make good decisions to create good relationships.
There's a formula for getting there, that's actually quite simple:
Hire people that you're willing to trust. Then trust them.