No good customer experience without empowered employees

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customer-serviceMore and more companies are understanding the power of customer experience to create more value. And customer service is a weapon of choice to achieve good customer experience. On the other hand some still struggle to understand that a good customer service is not unidirectional and supposes that employees in the front of customers are empowered to make decisions and bring specific answers. What needs adapted processes.

Furthermore, the concept of augmented customer service is getting more and more traction in digital departments with, sometimes, terrible downsides : an awesome online service coexisting with an helpless offline one.

This is the story of what I experienced a couple of weeks ago.

While on trip abroad to speak a conference, I went through the hotel lobby with a few speakers. We saw a little sign on the desk, announcing a global strike in the air transportation industry the day after. The news spreads and many people came to the desk to know more about the situation, some having to flight back to Paris, Germany or the US.

Informing customers and not employees is useless

Here’s the kind of conversation we had with desk agents :

– Will all airlines be affected ?

– I don’t know

– Airline crews or airports crews ?

– I don’t know

– Where does the information come from ?

– Don’t know. I was told to put this sign this morning.

– By whom ?

– The management

– Can you get further information ?

– I can’t

– Can you check the status of our flights ?

– Not my job

At the very beginning it was a clever idea from the hotel management that decided to inform customers that a “surprise strike” was about to happen. But, knowing the impact of such a news while many foreign guests were attending an international conference in the hotel, leaving desk agents without information and unable to help the customers was even worse than giving no information at all.

Then each of us got in touch with his airline, by phone or social media, to know what was happening. We all got a quick answer :

AF_service

 

“@bduperrin : Hello Bertrand. Flights are operated normally in Milan. No scheduled cancellation. Enjoy your flight”
Lessons to learn :

• informing the customer is nice, checking information is better

• informing customers beforehand is nice, but not informing and empowering employees is worse than informing nobody.

• while businesses are investing a lot in digital customer relationship, isolating digital from the rest of the organization is not a good idea. It’s about relationship before being about digital and it must me consistent whatever the touchpoint. Maybe the twitter account of the hotel could have given me a valid answer but the people at the desk had only a sign and did not know anything more. I reminds me a hotel in Indonesia where I used to get better and faster service and information by tweeting to their twitter account than asking employees while I was staying at the hotel.

Bottom line ; one can have lots of good intentions and ideas but if the organization does not match the ideas the customer experience declines.