People call customer service a dying art, but I wondered recently whether the death throws of service were also being poisoned by so many companies quarantining authority. That’s to say that many employees simply aren’t given the permission and power to actually provide quality service. Those special powers are restricted to management; the keyring toting, name-tag wearing demigods of bureaucracy.

What does a great service experience look like to you? For most, a good experience goes almost completely unnoticed, something you’re only conscious of when things go wrong. That’s where you truly notice great service, when things get screwed up and somebody has to make it right. You’re dealing with a server, service rep, some low level junior almost in tears because they messed up or something happened they can’t control. They can’t give you a free lunch or discount, though I’m sure they would want to.

The Home Depot Experience

Quick story, just to illustrate the point. I’m getting insulation at Home Depot because I’m savvy with the home renos, and the following situation occurred:

Employee A: “You get a free insulation blower with a purchase of ten bags.”

Me: “Awesome, I’ll be here first thing tomorrow to pick everything up.”

Tomorrow comes and I go to make the purchase…

Employee B: “Sorry, that special doesn’t exist anymore.”

Employee A: “Well I wish they would tell us on the floor!”

Things started getting awkward until a manager shows up and saves the day…

Manager: “Don’t be cheap, if that’s what we promised on the floor you give him the rental.”

And that was that. The manager gave permission for them to be awesome, and I was happy to get my deal. Now, not every rule can be simply brushed aside, but there was clearly a problem with employees wanting to do more than they could. Yes there was a communication breakdown, but they didn’t have the power to make things right for the customer.

Flat vs Stacked Hierarchies

The deeper the corporate hierarchy, the less likely you’re getting remarkable service until you work your way up the ladder. Why do you think so many people immediately call for the manager? People don’t expect to get deals or top quality responses until somebody with authority shows up.

You don’t want everybody giving deals, but when you have to get transferred three times or wait awkwardly at the check-out while people eyeball you on the way by, you get even more upset. I hate being a pain in the ass, and most people do as well (mostly, there are some true jerks out there and you know who you are). What I want is a quick and satisfactory resolution, and I think the service experience of many companies would improve if they gave more authority to their teams.

How many layers exist between your customer and good customer service?

Yes, this authority can be abused, which is most likely why so many companies operate the way they do now. Still, so many employees feel powerless in their positions because they have been clearly separated from any opportunity to help.

Empowering employees gives them control of their space and the ability to provide a proper customer service experience. With more power, your employees will make the customer happier, which is a win-win for business. Give your team the ability to be awesome, and they’ll use it.

Back to You

The question I would pose to those who have read this far, is do you agree with this sentiment, or will power be too easily abused? Can companies give more responsibility to employees or would too much stuff instantly become free?

I would love to know what people think on this, particularly as I’m sure everyone has had their share of good and bad experiences in service.


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