In my previous post, I talked about the state of the workforce today and the demise of basic customer engagement and retention skills.  I identified the root cause of this phenomena as a lack of an empowered sales force.  So what exactly do I mean when I say that our sales force is lacking in empowerment?

Many of us have visited the local retail, grocery or fast food establishment and left feeling frustrated, angry or downright put off from the experience. We shrug it off and blame the low grade of pay, the age and experience of the server or even the culture of a generation of workers.

While all of these play a key role, perhaps the single most valid factor attributing to the demise of the service industry is the lack of accountability of the server. This failure of ownership is a direct result of a workforce that does not feel empowered. “Let me get my manager,” takes away the power and the need for the front line server to work through the conflict and to restore the confidence of the customer.

You may be wondering how did this evolve? In the 80’s we were bombarded with Quality Management initiatives.  Disney was the model for how to do business.  “Have it Your Way” and “The customer is always right” were industry slogans.  There were even coveted awards, like the Malcolm Baldrige that companies spent years training their entire organizations in order to achieve the distinction of this highest order.

So what happened?

The recession happened.  The bottom line hit.  In an effort to protect investments and to stay above water on the proverbial sinking ship, managing customers became an archaic practice for a large majority of industry professionals. In addition, the basic tenets of management took a back seat to a new philosophy: leadership (which I plan to address in a later post). A quota system of operating was adopted to measure success and “leaders” were promoted based on their abilities to operate as task masters. The result: leaders that are racing the clock for results with workers that have no loyalty to accomplishing the goals that results in a revolving door of customers.

How do you fix it?  How do you create a work environment that produces staff that actually enjoy coming to work and create customers that are loyal?  You empower them.

Empowerment only works if everyone agrees to the process.  So, that means that the philosophy of an empowered workforce has to be a top-down, bottom-up, side to side agreement.  This agreement should be communicated across the organization and continuously reiterated.  Empowerment is a culture of change and not just a passing fancy.

The Empowered Workforce is an educated workforce. From internal communications to continuing education, having information to make decisions is a key component. Employees want to do good work and they would like to assist customers on the front line. However, many do not have the tools to do so.

Accountability starts with a workforce that is allowed to make mistakes as a part of the process. Punitive results for employees that make efforts to problem solve are counterproductive to the process.  A culture of perfection is a culture that is destined to fail. It’s punishments create a workforce that does not take risks, does not problem solve, and always looks to management for decisions. Great organizations allow their employees to fail without fault. Failure is considered an action, a decision. Failure creates opportunities to think outside the box, explore other opportunities and allows for critical thinking.

It doesn’t matter if your worker is 18 or 68, empowering them will make them more productive.  The end result will be an empowered workforce that is the frontline for your customer relationship management.

Next, I’ll talk about how managing your customers gives you a competitive edge.

Sonya Spencer is senior marketing consultant for her own company, Infinite Possibilities. She has over 30 years of experience in the field of marketing and management and has worked with for-profit and non-profit organizations.  She is also an adjunct professor with the Dallas County Community College District and teaches a course in Advertising and Sales Management.