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on creating a permission culture, empowering frontline teams to do the right thing in the moment for the customer. Permission is essential because process only accounts for 80-90 per cent of what’s required in a job. It’s the 10-20 per cent of grey, the space for something personal and fl exible, that makes the diff erence between OK and memorable.

Real life situations

T is was rather painfully demonstrated by a service call I recently witnessed at a white-goods company with which we were working. A customer with fi ve children had a broken washing machine – a serious dilemma, as anybody with kids will understand. When the customer placed the order for a replacement machine, she explained that there was a brief window in the day when she would have to do the school run and asked for

the delivery team to avoid that time. Unfortunately, she was on her way

back from the school run when the delivery man rang her mobile from outside her house. She begged him to wait for two minutes but, with 16 visits to do that day, he apologised and drove off . T e customer saw the van pass as she was driving down the road and, no doubt with bags of smelly gym kit on her back seat, turned round and followed. When it stopped at a light, she

got out of her car, banged on the window and begged for the machine. T e delivery man apologised again, but explained that the situation fell outside of process, so she would have to ring the call centre. When she did, the leadership team and I happened to be listening in. Of course, as mothers, as fathers, simply as human beings, we longed for the call handler to fi nd a way to get the woman her washing machine. But we listened with sinking hearts as, in a very professional and friendly manner, she said: “I’m really sorry, but I have to do what the process tells me, which is to go for the next available delivery, which is in ten days’ time.”


T e problem is, empowerment is hard. It takes more than pointing at your frontline teams and whooping ‘High fi ve! You are empowered!’ In practice, truly empowered cultures are founded on stories: those narratives that anticipate, anatomise and celebrate the moments where the business went the extra mile. Best-for-service companies continually gather, record and share examples of when people stepped outside of process in an eff ective way, using them to model the level of empowerment they want in their team. And if they are to infl uence the wider culture, those stories must focus on positive actions rather than fuel conversations about what’s going wrong. Particularly in Britain, we’ve got an epidemic of negative critique. People tend to home in on “what you didn’t do” or “what wasn’t supposed to be”, when it’s the stuff that is dazzling customers which will motivate internally. In one well-known delivery

company, the CEO takes time every month to look out for an especially

sparkly van representing his brand on the road, takes a selfi e next to it, and sends it on to the depot manager with a thumbs up and a note of praise for the driver. By comparison, the CEO of one high street retail bank has spent the past few years spotting dirty ATM machines, taking snaps and emailing

Stories must focus on positive actions rather than fuel conversations about what’s going wrong

the evidence to the Branch Manager. Which approach do you think

works better to nurture an engaging, eff ortless and human service culture? T e one that looks out for people doing it right, or the one that points the fi nger at those getting it wrong? I’ll give you a clue: it’s not the one headed up by the guy with the phone full of photos of grubby cash machines.

Positive steps

As soon as you start to take these three steps, one thing becomes clear. Although it is crucial for the people at the top to lead by example, for your customer service experience to become best in class, every individual at every level of a business must change their conversation about people, and relentlessly participate. Team leaders, supervisors,

store managers, fi rst- second- and third-line managers, frontline staff , delivery guys – everyone must take responsibility for understanding what customers want, taking part in VDAs and regularly sharing positive stories, every day. Only then will they share in the pleasure that a truly human attitude to business brings. And only then will the women

with fi ve kids get their gym kit washed for school the next day.

Sally Earnshaw is MD of Blue Sky Performance Improvement and on a mission to change the nation’s customer experience by helping companies to #bemorehuman. Find out more at

| November 2016 | 39

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