Sarah Green of the Harvard Business Review posted a blog yesterday that pointed out the most important ingredient of great customer service....the ability and authority to take responsibility.
In The Key to Great Customer Service she writes about being at an appearance of Tony Hsieh of Zappos but she also recounts her experience at the Amtrak station in New York City. And it wasn't about lousy service or stereotypical (an often unwarranted reputation) New Yorker behavior.
It was about someone who took the responsibility to help someone out in the simplest and quickest way possible rather than dither around about whether it was part of the job description or any of her business.
Her biggest point was that this was not a Zappos employee but one of the many other employees in other companies who "get it" and make it work. When faced with a panicky woman who is desperate to get on a train but absolutely, positively needs to get a set of keys back to a friend before doing so, Joyce Davis of Amtrak simply took the keys herself, gave Sarah her cell number and said to tell her friend to give Joyce a call to arrange for the pick-up.
(You can decide if this picture was before Sarah got her problem solved or after Joyce made her wonderful, seemingly out of big-city character, offer.)
How often do you suppose that happens? Something that simple can get blown all out of proportion when taking responsibility is booted out of the picture. I am sure we all have stories that end with "...it would have been so simple to...".
I'm not saying your employees should take on the responsibility for just anything that happens, but they do need to be able to take care of the smaller stuff that may not be completely in their purview but that won't hurt anything to do. And it will definitely help when it comes to positive word-of-mouth for your business. As the commercial says, that's priceless.
So I hope Joyce Davis' manager didn't yell at her and say things like, "Now everyone will expect it." It is unlikely they will get a run of people wanting to drop things off at Joyce's desk to get back to friends and just look at the positive publicity Amtrak and the NewYork City station just got from a nationally syndicated blog of a well known organization...and from the Harvard Business Review too ;).
Just kidding, of course. But thanks to Sarah Green and Joyce Davis, we know great customer service hinges on employee empowerment and responsiblity to own the problem AND the solution.