Want to Improve Customer Service? Your Staff Wants to Help – Really.

Guest Post by Kristina Evey, www.KristinaEvey.com

Have you ever been in the situation where you know you have been able to do something, have wanted to be able to do it, but there were some “Rules” that prevented you form doing it?  This is how your staff often feels when dealing with customer issues and complaints.  I often find that staff are more than willing to take care of customer issues or complaints, but become frustrated because they need “management approval.” 

Consider the following scenario – I was in a craft store recently to make a return on a $5.00 item.  I waited in line for 10 minutes while the cashier was simultaneously helping the customers in her line, training a new cashier next to her, and was on the phone with another store trying to locate an item. 

Once I was being waited on, I commented to her that it appeared she was wearing many hats.  She just smiled and said that it was better to be busy than bored.  Once my return was entered into the computer, she had to page the manager on the overhead speaker.  I then asked what would happen if the manager was in a meeting or on the phone.  She replied that her hands were tied.  She then said something very powerful –
“I just wish they would let me process returns up to $50.00.  All the manager is going to do is just turn a key in my computer.  He doesn’t even ask any questions about the transactions.  That way, I could help you myself faster and not have to make you wait. If there is a problem, then I could get help from him.”

Another scenario – A medical office billing specialist was frustrated because she would occasionally have a patient who was being billed for a copay that  they were insisting they had paid in cash, but were unable to locate the receipt.  The “policy” in the office was to pull the chart, review the situation with the physician, then have the physician make the determination as to what to do, the office manager would need to sign off on the decision, then the patient would be contacted with the resolution.  Sometimes, although rarely, the patient would be discharged because the physician felt there was a breach of trust.  This entire process would take between 3 hours or 3 days, depending upon workload.

The biller recognized that this issue was a rarity.  She also knew that it hardly ever happened more than once with the same patient.  She knew that there were a few instances where the patient was facing financial hardship and wanted to get them on a payment plan.  But, most importantly, since she was the billing specialist, she wanted to be empowered to resolve this type of situation on her own with some guidelines attached. 

Once the billing specialist was given the opportunity, she came up with the following guidelines – When a patient called in because they were being billed for a copay they claimed to have paid in cash, she would write it off up to $50.  She would then make a note in her system.  Should the same patient call in again with the same situation, she would know that there was something to address.  At that time, she would speak to the physician and the office manager and make her assessment if there was a trust issue or if it could be a case of financial hardship.  That collaboration would then determine if the patient would be discharged or put on a payment plan. 
Once these guidelines were put into place, the billing specialist was able to handle the issue on her own within 15 minutes of the patient call.  She felt a higher level of trust from the physician and the office manager and took more ownership in her responsibilities.  She was also able to work with the few patients who were in financial hardship and put them on payment plans.  Because she was able to make that recommendation, the financial relationship stayed strong between herself and the patient, while the physician was able to focus on the therapeutic relationship.

The point of both of these scenarios is simply this – The staff had the desire, willingness, and capabilities of handling the issues in the best interest of the customer and the company.  They also had the idea of exactly how to do it.

When staff are empowered, the entrepreneurial spirit is awakened within them and they will feel pride and ownership in their responsibilities.  They will make responsible decisions to the best of their abilities.  While some decisions may not always be the best decision, it provides a wonderful learning and training opportunity.  When staff feel that you trust them by allowing them to handle issues, they will then begin to make their decisions as if they owned the company.

Should you find that you have a staff member is not making the best decisions on a repetitive basis, you then either have a training issue or have made an inappropriate hiring decision.  There are necessary steps to be taken quickly in these cases in order to best serve your customers.

For more information and ideas on how to focus on your customers, I invite you to visit www.KristinaEvey.com.  You’ll find articles, products, and a membership site all designed to assist your organization to become more customer centric.  Please also request your copy of 50 Free Customer Service Tips Made Simple and sign up for my free monthly newsletter.

Comments

  1. First off, thanks again Kristina for the enlightening post. Empowerment, to me, is the key driver of so many elements of a high functioning customer-centric business model.

    Consistently, those companies that rank as the best places to work (in large part because of the empowerment culture embedded in the these organizations) are also those companies that rank highest in customer satisfaction, loyalty and other such metrics. As hard as it may be for some to comprehend, these companies put the needs of employees even before customers. But think about the logic. If you love what you do. If you're passionate about it. If you get out of bed every day and can't get wait to get to work because you know what you do will actually make a difference, how can that not translate to the customer in terms of a truly delightful experience?

    Oh and by the way, to your very first sentence? Yes! In life there are too many rules. The ones that make an impact on our world are those that challenge, and often break the rules.

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