I’d like to share two recent great experiences that reminded me what a great thing it is to empower employees to make fast decisions that render great customer service.

First, I bought a pair of fairly expensive sneakers at a national sporting goods store. The day after the purchase Carol and I escaped to Hawaii for several weeks. My new unworn sneakers went with me. The darned things squeaked every step I took!

They were the only walking shoes I had so they were worn the entire time we were away. Upon returning home I went to the sporting goods store expecting to get a hard time because the shoes had been worn so much. Much to my surprise and delight the salesperson said, “No problem! Go pick out another pair.” I not only did that, but I upgraded to the top-of-the-line sneaker, paying 20% more. The sales clerk didn’t have to go to the boss and the boss’s boss to get permission to make me a happy customer. That’s employee empowerment.

The second experience was similar. I needed to return a special-order product. I didn’t like it. Once again, the salesperson said, “No problem” and gave me a full refund. Another demonstration of employee empowerment — and a happy customer.

We’ve all heard the story about Nordstrom’s taking back four tires when they didn’t even sell tires. (I’ve always wondered whether its marketing folks didn’t create that story). Whether truth or fiction, Nordstrom’s empowers its sales associates to make on-the-fly decisions that create happy customers and keep them coming back.

It’s paramount that you are honest, sincere and consistent in your efforts to serve your customers. The only way you can do that is by empowering employees to satisfy your customers quickly and to their satisfaction.

I was a captain in the Army. I learned to live by rules and was process driven. Many owners, managers and employees are the same way. They worship rules. Too many employees assume they will be fired if they make a decision outside the rules in favor of the customer. The facts are that many decisions to make the customer happy will cost you less than 50 bucks.

Unfortunately, in my opinion too many owners and managers don’t want to give up control. Control is job security and/or a feeling of importance. Too many owners/managers will let great customer service suffer because they won’t trust others with responsibility that they think should be theirs.

I recommend reading two books on employee empowerment: “Short History of Front Line Decision Making Responsibility” by Bob Webb and “Empowerment – A Way of Life” by John Tschohl.

In Tschohl’s book he recites four challenges all businesses face:

  1. Many managers don’t trust customers. They believe the customer is trying to take advantage of them. Many employees feel the same way.
  2. Too many managers don’t trust their employees. They pay their employees as little as possible and have even less confidence in their ability to make decisions. There’s a belief customers are going to take advantage of their employees.
  3. With empowerment you don’t need as many managers and supervisors.
  4. Very few employees are on their knees at night praying for empowerment. It’s too risky.

Here’s one definition I found on empowering employees: Empowering employees is the ongoing process of providing the tools, training, resources, encouragement and motivation your workers need to perform at the optimum level. It also means the process of allowing employees to have input and control over their work and the ability to openly share suggestions and ideas about their work in the organization as a whole.

I strongly believe empowered employees are committed, loyal and conscientious. They are eager to share ideas and can serve as strong ambassadors for their organizations. Here are some benefits that come with empowering your employees.

Productivity: Giving people ownership of tasks and projects spurs them on to complete them and want to do a good job.

Improved communication: Staff will feel like you trust and value their opinions and are more open to approaching management with ideas and concerns.

A “can do” attitude: There’s nothing like a confidence boost to motivate people. Once your employees see what a good job they can do by being able to make decisions on their own and to manage their own work, the more they will want to push themselves.

Increased motivations: Giving your team freedom encourages them to think creatively and you never know what amazing ideas and results they might come up with and how that will benefit your showroom business.

High employee morale: As we all know, high employee morale brings with it benefits of its own — including increased productivity and better retention rates.

Happy customers: If your team is performing at its best they’re most likely keeping customers happy, which can only be a good thing for your business.

Employee empowerment has to be part of the business philosophy and culture. It starts at the top! Giving employees empowerment isn’t easy. Many bosses hate giving up responsibilities and “power,” but it’s a proven fact companies that do empower employees have a higher degree of loyalty, morale, retention and customer satisfaction.

Here are a few ideas for managing people in a way that reinforces employee empowerment, accomplishment and contribution.

Value your people: Your regard for people shines through in all your actions and words. Your facial expressions, your body language and your words express what you are thinking about the people reporting to you. Your goal is to demonstrate your appreciation for each person’s unique value.

Share your leadership vision: Help people feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and their individual jobs. Do this by making sure they know and have access to the showroom’s overall mission vision and strategic plans. Better yet, include employees in actual planning and product selection. If they are part of helping with the plan then they will own the direction and will surprise you with their commitment and competency.

Share goals and direction: When possible, involve your showroom employees in goal-setting and planning. They will add value, knowledge, ideas, insight and experience that you may not find in the “corporate tower.” Be sure the goals are measureable, observable and achievable.

Trust people: Trust the intentions of people to do the right thing, make the right decisions and make choices that, while they might not be what you would have done, most likely will have as good or maybe even better results.

Provide information: Make certain you have given people all the information they need to make thoughtful decisions.

Provide feedback: Provide frequent feedback so people know how they are doing. Regularly scheduled job-performance evaluations will accomplish this. People deserve your constructive feedback so they can continue to develop their knowledge and skills.

Provide guidance: Listen to learn and ask questions to provide guidance. Provide an environment in which communication with employees will allow managers to ask questions and to listen to the answers. Guide by asking questions, not by telling grown people what to do. Employees generally know the right answers if they have the opportunity to provide them.

Reward behavior: Help employees feel rewarded and recognized for empowered behavior. When they feel undercompensated, under-titled for the responsibilities they take on, under noticed, underpraised and underappreciated, don’t expect results from employee empowerment. The basic needs of employees must be met for them to give you the extra effort they can voluntarily invest in their work. Successful employee empowerment recognition plays an important role.

A company’s success lies in empowered employees. It’s important to train employees and make sure they have trust in what empowerment will bring to the company. Satisfying customers quickly benefits everyone. Moreover, happy, empowered and fulfilled employees are the key to creating happy customers! When employees are empowered and given responsibility, they will use their talents and skills to maximize the opportunities.

Empowerment is not about breaking the rules, but bending them to make/keep the customer happy. It is about making fast decisions on the spot in favor of the customer. Employees need to be able to bend the rules so the customer always wins!

Good selling!