Avoid this Mistake when Empowering Employees

2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference Speaker Adam Toporek

This guest article is brought to you Adam Toporek, who presenting at the 2018 Customer Service Revolution.


How to Avoid the Biggest Mistake When Empowering Employees

When I opened my first retail store over a decade ago, one of my biggest concerns was making sure I had controls in place. Operational controls. Financial controls. Customer controls.

As a first-time franchisee and regional developer for a national franchise brand, I was onboarded into a culture that emphasized systems, processes, and brand standards. As a business school graduate and MBA, I had been taught the importance of running a tight ship and managing to the bottom line.

Quote by 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference Speaker Adam Toporek

So, when I opened my retail store, I had systems in place to make sure nothing slipped past me. Any refund or comp needed a manager’s approval. If it was over a certain amount, or violated the customer’s contract, then they needed owner approval.

I had controls, but I didn’t have control. In fact, under the system I had set up, customer service issues quickly spun out of control.

It took a few months, but after ticking off enough customers and wasting not only my frontline team’s time but also my manager’s and my time as well, I realized how damaging my attempts at control were.

We were losing business and making our team both unhappy and ineffective, all for a few low-value transactions.

I knew that we had to break free from the prison of controls and, more importantly, we had to empower our frontline team to resolve customer issues on the spot.

*Related – Adam Toporek is presenting at the 2018 Customer Service Revolution.


My Great Mistake When Empowering Employees

Years ago, when I began this transition from command and control to a culture of empowerment, I was learning in real time, and I made some costly mistakes.

In the academic literature, you’ll find that academics and researchers separate employee empowerment into two different categories:

  • Actual Empowerment. This is what we gave our team. It’s an increase in authority or an expansion of roles.
  • Psychological Empowerment. This refers to how empowered employees feel. They have the power, but do they feel empowered to use it?

Quote by 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference Speaker Adam Toporek

The great mistake I made (and it’s one that many customer experience leaders make) was assuming that actual empowerment was enough. I never asked the crucial question, “Do my employees feel empowered?”

Want to know what happened when I let go of the reigns and tried to transition from command and control to empowerment?

Nothing. The employees didn’t use it.

And despite the controls, our culture was generally supportive and not one where employees were micromanaged.

Still, when we flipped the switch, the empowerment lights did not come on.

I soon realized that it was going to be a process. Telling our team members that they had the power was not enough to make them feel comfortable using it.

If you are looking to empower your teams more, the degree to which you need to be concerned about the gap between actual empowerment and psychological empowerment has a lot to do with where you are starting from culturally. The more command and control the culture you are transitioning from, the more you will want to actively engage your team in understanding that it’s okay to use their empowerment.

You’ll need to let your team know that if they use their empowerment and it wasn’t the right call, that there won’t be repercussions, that they can, to use a term we have at CTS Service Solutions, “resolve without risk.”

Empowerment Is a Customer Experience Win-Win-Win

Quote by 2018 Customer Service Revolution Conference Speaker Adam Toporek

To me empowering employees, smartly and strategically, is one of the most powerful techniques you can deploy in leading a Hero-Class@ customer experience team and is an essential ingredient to being your team’s hero. In fact, we can draw a line straight from employee empowerment to customer experience results. A study by the Gallup Organization found that “organizations that empower employees experience 50% higher customer loyalty.”

Employee empowerment is the ultimate win-win-win. Customers win, employees win, and leaders win.

Just remember that it is not enough to make sure your team is empowered, you also have to make sure they feel empowered.

Because empowerment that does not get used is no empowerment at all.