A recent headline about fixing a toxic work culture from MIT Sloan School of Management grabbed our attention. The advice for leaders about listening to their workforce and enabling them to make good customer decisions was spot on. However, it made us think of the challenge for leaders to reduce customization and become more efficient vs. the ability for empowering actions with customers that would be custom in nature. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish. Swinging the pendulum too far in either direction can create challenges.

So how do you find the right balance? Corporate Path Leadership has five simple steps to consider and validate with your own company.

Step #1: Set (or Reconfirm) What You Are Offering To Customers

Too many times, loose or inconsistent offerings lead to confusion for customers. And confusion can lead to customer complaints and the need for reconciliation. Mature organizations have their offerings clearly defined and communicated with customers to avoid such confusion. This is one area where operational efficiency can reduce customer dissatisfaction and improve employee morale at the same time.

Step #2: Set (or Reconfirm) Your Processes To Monitor And Resolve Customer Issues

Imagine this scenario: Your customers frequently use social media to complain about issues with your company or its offerings. Your marketing team assigns an intern to manage social media posts and respond to any comments. What can go wrong with this process?!

Mapping out how customers may contact the company to resolve issues is critical. For each avenue of contact, make sure that you have resources in place that can help make decisions quickly. Saying you have a phone number or customer service team is not enough. Making sure that each path is staffed with people who an solve issues is the key. Again, this can actually improve operational efficiency in the long-term by reducing customer dissatisfaction and improving employee morale.

Step #3: Create Clear Options For Staff To Make Customer Satisfaction Decisions

When employees are unsure of what they can or cannot do for customers, they are caught in a trap. Their gut may say to aim for the moon and exceed customer expectations, but their fear of punishment for giving too much away for free might keep them from acting at all.

If a key customer has an issue and the employee knows that it is acceptable to provide a credit for a free month of service, or offer a significant discount for any future service, it keeps the resolution itself efficient and reduces number of employees who need to be involved. If that same employee knows that it is not OK to offer a free year of service to resolve the same type of issue, it helps them operate within parameters that make sense for the business’ efficiency.


“Southwest Airlines, among the most profitable of air carriers, has been lauded for its company culture, and ranks highly in customer satisfaction as a result. It’s a business strategy that says, ‘We’re really going to emphasize our customer service, and we’re going to support our employees to make sure they’ve got the tools and the trust to take action.’”

-- Thomas Kochan, professor of work and organization studies at MIT Sloan


Step #4: Knowing When – And How – To Escalate

No matter the parameters given to employees, there will be special circumstances that require unusual responses. Perhaps there are rules for the #1 customer that don’t apply to others. Or the customer is still unhappy with whatever reconciliation attempt has come from an employee. Instead of making the employees squirm with this challenge, make sure that they have a simple known way to escalate the issue to a person or group with more authority.

The most helpful tip here is having simple talking points that the employee can use for escalation situations. For example, “I’m sorry that I’m not able to resolve this situation on my own. I’ll promise to honor my commitment to <employee offer of reconciliation> and also refer this matter to <escalation group> and have them contact you within <appropriate amount of time>. What’s the best way for them to reach you?”

Step #5: Tracking The Issues To Guide Future Product/Service Offerings and Operational Process Changes

Don’t forget that customer input and complaints can be invaluable insight to determine future offerings and process changes within your organization. But these changes will never see fruition without leadership review of the customer challenges. A key note here is to not use Executive Summary survey data to guide the decisions. Spending time each quarter with each group of stakeholders that interacts directly with customers and learning from their experiences will help to surface those recurring trends. In turn, those trends can be opportunities to productize something or make a process improvement that will make the organization more efficient, and customers and employees happy. What’s not to love about that?

The reality is that employee empowerment to resolve customer issues does not have to be at odds with operational efficiency. Done in the right way — it actually can be a booster shot for success!

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