Control v Empowerment – the impact on Customer Experience

Control v Empowerment – the impact on Customer Experience

In a World where consumers are more informed than they have ever been, have more choice and where expectations are continually rising, it is the organisations who put their customers first in all they do who are continuing to grow and be successful

What separates the winners from the losers, is culture. It is the culture, set by the leaders of an organisation, not just in what they say, but what they do, which determines how customer centric a business is – and ultimately how successful it is.


Sorry Sir, our procedures say…

Two recent experiences of my own demonstrate starkly how costly it can be to get it wrong. Some weeks ago, I tried to return a faulty £14.99 electrical appliance to one of the major supermarket chains. (interestingly, the supermarket concerned used to be number one in UK but lost its crown to one of their competitors and have continued to lose market share and are now in talks to merge). To cut a long story short, I was refused as I did not have a receipt and, as such, could not have my money back, an exchange or a credit note.  ‘Sorry Sir, our procedures say there is nothing we can do for you’. This line was repeated by the three Duty Managers I spoke to.

I have been a loyal customer for many years, but, started to ask myself some searching questions as a result of this experience.

Consumers will usually cut an organisation some slack and, unless they have a very bad experience, will rarely leave after one issue. In this vein, I decided to give them another chance.

A few weeks later, I was cooking tea for my wife for a special occasion but was struggling to get hold of a key ingredient. I called this same supermarket to see if they had it in stock and could hold it for me (as I couldn’t get there for a few hours). Yes, they had it – great! No, they couldn’t hold it – ‘Our policy is not to put things by Sir’ I was told.


We come back to culture…

This organisation’s culture is clearly driven by Policies and Processes, not customers. Yes, Policies and Processes are important, very important and indeed, some of the World’s most successful organisations are underpinned by solid Processes and Procedures. That said, it is still the customer who is the most important factor in any business.

I am often asked what to do in these situations, what is the correct decision to make? The simple answer is, the correct decision is the one that meets the needs and wants of the customer (provided the organisation is not going to break the law or suffer significant loss as a result) – do what is right for the customer.

Richard Branson often talks to his employees about ‘don’t ask me for permission, ask me for forgiveness’. His mantra is to do what is right for the customer, take the action you have to, to make the customer happy, and let’s have a conversation afterwards. His organisations are built around robust policies and procedures, but his people are empowered to override them as required, if it means doing the right thing for their customers.

So, in my scenarios, is it the fault of the people I spoke to at the store that they   were unable to do what was right for me? No. The culture of the organisation (and sadly, many others) is that Policies and Procedures must be followed at all costs, even if it means upsetting and ultimately losing, loyal customers. Staff are clearly fearful of going against ‘the rules’, as this is what the culture dictates. Surely employees should be trusted to make the right decision, the decision which is right for the customer?

As the Harvard Business Review commented: ‘Increased customer loyalty is the single most important driver of long-term financial performance’.


If we look at the financials of my experiences:

Cost of the electrical appliance item to the organisation? I would guess at around £10 to buy in. My annual spend at this supermarket? Around £7500.

My life time value to this supermarket for the rest of my life? Around £150,000 maybe? And am I the only customer having these experiences?


In conclusion…

Customers have to be at the heart of an organisation which means that business decisions have to revolve around what is right for the customer. And as a customer-centric culture is set by the organisations’ leaders they need to step up and lead the way.


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