As we move through Customer Service Week 2013, what are you doing to help your employees deliver the best customer service possible?

I recently read an article by Holly Regan of Software Advice in which she introduced a concept that Chris DeRose and Noel Tichy wrote about in their book, Judgment on the Front Line: How Smart Companies Win by Trusting Their People: the judgment playing field.

As Holly notes in her article, this refers to employees having the…

freedom to make decisions – within safe boundaries. … Senior management must specifically define where front-line employees are and aren’t allowed to deviate from established rules and processes – and then must give them the flexibility to experiment with new ways for serving customers.”

For this to work, it requires:

(a) people-centric leadership that is frontline-focused, willing to build trust relationships with employees, and willing to allow employees to use their best judgment,  and

(b) frontline employees that are trustworthy, have/use common sense, have a great attitude, can work autonomously, and are able to exercise good judgment.

Let’s hone in on frontline focus. Your frontline employees are the face of the brand; they deliver the first, the last, and the lasting impressions. They are also a rich source of information for the company, as they carry a wealth of feedback and other information from and about customers that can help the company create better products, services, and experiences.

How do we enable frontline employees to do what’s right and to act in the best interest of the customer? How do we prepare them to more easily exercise good judgment? DeRose and Tichy have a five-step process to help you do this:

1. Connect the frontline to the customer strategy.
2. Empower them to think for themselves.
3. Allow employees to experiment with new says to solve customer problems.
4. Eliminate the barriers, remove bad policies and processes, and create a culture of customers first/employees more first.
5. Invest in the frontline; hire right, onboard thoroughly, and train on an ongoing basis.

I love this example that DeRose and Tichy give to illustrate the concept:

A store manager at a big-box retailer in San Diego gave us a lesson on this. He noted that turtle owners in apartments often under-nourish their pets and keep them in small aquariums to stunt their growth. Intrigued, we naturally asked, what do turtles have to do with frontline leadership? He told us that most places where he had worked had boxed him in with rules, procedures, and administrative work that stunted employees’ development and their potential contribution.

So I challenge you to think about your organization. Are your leaders frontline focused? Are there rules and policies that stifle the frontline’s ability to deliver the best service? Do your employees work from scripts or within simple guidelines? How are you empowering them? Do you invest in the growth and development of your employees? Or are you treating them like these miniature turtles?

There are two kinds of people: the ones who need to be told and the ones who figure it out all by themselves. -Tom Clancy