Empower Your People to Serve the Customer

Let me start with a true story. Not too long ago I was a the grocery store late afternoon, a busy time for any food market, and this particular day was no exception.

A long line had formed of people lightly laden with just few items, probably things they had forgotten for dinner. The cashier was young, and seemed little daunted by the line and commotion. Still, things were moving along relatively well until an elderly woman pointed out to the cashier that he had rung up one of her items for $9.95 but a sign on the shelf had listed it on sale for $8.95.

Here comes the test for this young cashier: challenge her or let it pass. From your point of view, sitting in your comfortable armchair, you already know the correct answer. But you can probably guess what happened next. The young employee panicked and began to question the woman's veracity. After a few tense moments for the two principal actors, and for us observing over our armloads of groceries, the cashier locked his register and left this now embarrassed customer, and a line of frustrated shoppers, to see for himself if the woman indeed deserved to get her dollar savings.

Empowerment Matters

One of my favorite brands, and favorite airlines, is Southwest. Why? Because they treat people like a humans. According to an article I read, Southwest empowers their employees to make the decision that is best for the customer without having to go up the food chain to get permission. That is empowerment. Our poor grocery store cashier had never been empowered to be an advocate for his customer.

Otherwise, his response might have been, "Oh I'm sorry, they sometimes don't get the pricing into the computer. I apologize for any confusion." She would've been impressed and the line of waiting customers would have been impressed. The lady would have left happy and the line would have kept moving along with a smile on everyone's face. It would've been a memorable action that impacted how all of us observers thought about the store, and the brand, in the days to come.

If brand = awareness + meaning, a caring response by the cashier would have brought a ton of meaning to that side of the equation.

How much meaning are your people empowered to bring to your customer?