Your Employee Support is All But Supportive

by Jeannie Walters

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Are your customer service representatives friendly and fully-trained? It’s great if they are, but I’ve got news: it’s not enough. Customer-facing employees need to be empowered to make certain judgment calls, and possibly most important of all, they need to have a life-line for those situations they just don’t know how to handle.

We can expect newer employees to get stuck once in a while. It’s part of the learning process, and usually they come out of a problem situation with a new understanding of how to handle things.

There will always be situations that have not come up in training, or things we simply forgot to clue them in on. And we must understand that they probably won’t remember everything they learned from a vigorous training program.

employee support

But this raises an interesting question:

Do they know what to do when they don’t know what to do?

Whom do they go to? Who is their life-line? New employees are often pushed out of the nest after their official training is over and left to hold their own. They are left feeling like they have no line of support and that they shouldn’t have to ask any more questions.

A few months back, I wrote about BestBuy as our micromoment of the Month. They really impressed me with their proactive approach to correcting a mistake. But don’t get me wrong- I’m not sporting Best Buy bumper stickers and regularly acting as a brand advocate. They are awesome at certain things, but not everything.

In fact, my most recent in-store experience was not so great. I had previously received a store credit (in the form of a special gift card) for an item I had returned. A few weeks later, my mouse took a dive on me and I decided to use that credit in-store for a replacement.

At the checkout, I was greeted by the most delightful young lady. She was SUPER nice, and all smiles as she rang up my purchase. After giving me the total, she struggled to validate the card. She said, “Oh, this is a store credit and it processes differently than a gift card.”

Ooooh kaaay… How different could it be? Many POS systems are just “swipe and go” regardless of the card type. But this particular system apparently requires a special song and dance when it involves a store credit. Not sure why, and not my problem.

Still smiling ear-to-ear, after struggling with it for a minute or so, the cashier said, “Well, I don’t know how to do this, so you’ll just have to pay some other way and use your store credit later. That will be $86.98.”

employee support

I’m sure I don’t have to explain what is wrong with all of this! Lots of things. But the obvious lack of real employee support takes the prize.

I said, “Well, is there someone nearby who can help? I came specifically to redeem this credit and I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I’ve essentially already paid for this.” Then she began to look a little worried as she hesitantly reached for the store phone. “Well, there is somebody, but I… don’t…” Poor thing was afraid to call for help.

The security guy at the door happened to overhear what was going on and stepped in, though it was technically not his responsibility.  Yay for him! He seemed to have been keeping an eye on her. Once he knew, he said, “Hey Sue, can you come over here?” And the cashier’s smile faded instantly. Sue happened to be within earshot, no need for that phone- she was right there! Why not ask Sue for help!?

Then Sue graced us with her benevolent presence, lickety-split. “What is it?” Sue was obviously not happy to help. Rolling her eyes and sighing, she pulled out her special key, voided the transaction, and re-rang everything herself, seemingly with that “If you want something done right…” attitude. Sue did not say a word to me or even look in my direction, and took off as soon as it was done.

employee support

The cashier was like a different person after all of that. She was not smiling any more, and her face was red. She said, “I’m so sorry.” “It’s OK,” I said, motioning in Sue’s direction. “A few more situations like this and you won’t need to bother her anymore.”

Do your customer-facing employees have a real life-line?

You may have supervisors on duty, but how available are they, really? Do they step in to help or simply “take over” making employees look like idiots who will never learn? Do they seem bothered when they have to help with things they see as fundamental? Are they there to “manage” your staff, or to serve as leaders?

Customer service is a tough job, and it’s often hard to be sure your employees know how to handle a problem. But sometimes the missing piece of the equation is a constructive and respectful life-line as a fundamental part of your customer service strategy.

Are your employees afraid to ask for help?

Image credits: Cliff,  imgurMorgan via Creative Commons license

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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