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I Want to Be a Customer Service HERO


I’m inspired. I want to be a HERO, but not just any kind of hero. I want to be a Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operative.

I learned about this cool designation from a Harvard Business Review article (July/August 2010) by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler entitled “Empowered“.  In the article the authors described the way employees at companies like Best Buy, Black & Decker, and E*Trade have proactively taken the initiative to use readily available technology to do things like improve internal training, avert customer service problems, and strengthen their brands.

What I really liked reading is the recognition that there are lots of smart, dedicated people out there with great ideas who are capable of making things better for customers and coworkers if given a fighting chance (aka if empowered).

“The crucial part of the solution is the HERO Compact–a three-way agreement for managing technological innovation. In the compact, HERO’s agree to innovate within a safe framework, managers agree to encourage innovation and manage risk, and IT agrees to support and scale up HERO projects.”

Although the focus of the article was on innovative technological solutions, the authors had me at “highly empowered and resourceful operatives”. No question, Bestbuy’s Twelpforce is a marvelous innovation and a credit to the employees who figured out how to make it work. Thinking about some of our clients, I have to say that not every organization has the technological wherewithal, the social media interest, or the need for that sort of innovation. But what organization wouldn’t want a cadre of “resourceful operatives” advocating in the interest of both the customer and your company. Couldn’t there be non-technological innovations?

So that brings me back to the definition: highly empowered and resourceful operatives. One of the article’s central messages was that to be HERO’s operatives have to be highly empowered. Empowering and enabling employees is one of the keys to launching and sustaining a successful customer service strategy. The question is “How”? Here are a few suggestions listed in no particular order:

  • Remove head from sand. As the article said, “New technologies and social media have made it possible for a single dissatisfied customer to inflict lasting damage on a brand….Companies have to respond to customers’ escalating power…Employees are ready to do so.”
  • Encourage innovative practices by giving employees a forum for bringing ideas to light and by giving your personal support to ideas that can make a difference in the customer’s experience.
  • Tap into the mother-load of CE knowledge: your front line representatives, team leaders, and managers. Talk with them and see what ideas they have or  find out what they’re  (gasp!) already doing.
  • Set up a social media policy and train employees in permissible communications and activities so all their creativity is used for the good of customers and the company.
  • Assess the risk associated with any proposed innovation and see what you and your peers can do to manage the risk.
  • Loop in an IT champion to enable the innovation if it involves technology.
  • Stand back and get ready to celebrate the teams’ successes.

I’d love to hear about the HERO’s at your company. Who are they and what was their innovation? What was/is the impact on customer experience or organizational effectiveness? Oh, and is there a dress code? Do they get to wear red patent leather lace up hero boots to work? Maybe I should save that one for another blog post.

Originally published on August 11th, 2010 by Monica Postell on I Want to Be a Customer Service HERO

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