Exceptional Customer Service Through Empowering Business Essay

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While reading our textbook I came across many topics that offered a new perspective that I found very interesting, however one specifically stuck out in my mind. In Chapter 3, Serving Customers at a Higher Level, there were many ideas presented that demonstrated ways of better serving customers. The common and most popular saying we are all familiar with is "the customer is always right." In my mind it is over used and doesn't provide any high level of customer satisfaction; which is required for our organizations to be considered a High Performing Organization. "High performing organizations ensure that they can respond quickly to customer needs and adapt to changes in the marketplace" (Blanchard, 2010, p. 34). Organizations, who strive to provide a higher level of service, put themselves in the place of the customer and figure out if this is how they would want to be treated. If not, then they need to redesign their process to ensure they are treated in a manner that they would be satisfied with if they were the customer on the receiving end of the service. It's an application of the Golden Rule in a business environment. Unfortunately most companies today don't do this and customer service appears to be a business function that gets pushed off as a secondary function. I do not intend for this statement to be a generic statement across all businesses; there are examples of companies' that do have exceptional customer service programs. Some of them have been highlighted in this book, and will most likely come up in discussion throughout the remainder of this class. Obviously companies like Disney World, Vacation Resorts and Cruise lines, etc rely on exceptional customer service and achieve the best customer satisfaction they can. Their future sales and revenue comes from happy customers becoming repeat clients. But for all the good companies, there are those that have less than stellar customer service.

Companies that provide a product or item as its primary purpose with a customer service aspect as a secondary purpose, are the typically the types of companies that provide a lesser quality customer service. In my position in an Information Technology Department, I often find myself fighting with companies like Dell, HP, and Verizon to get them to provide me service for the products we buy from them. These types of companies primary purpose is to make and sell a product like a computer, server or some other type of technology. Their secondary purpose is to provide customer service for the products they sell, so customer service doesn't always get the attention it deserves. I work for FirstEnergy, an Electric Utility Company, and a portion of our business is running a customer service department for our customers to call when they have issues with their bills, meter readings and to report outages. However, I would have to say that we are performing far from a high performing organization when it comes to our customer service. Three years ago we implemented a new automatic call system that forces the client to go through automated prompts and menus in an effort to handle the customers call automatically. All efforts were made to route calls through this automated system to eliminate the need to have as many agents on staff. While this does allow us to provide customer service twenty-four hours a day three hundred and sixty-five days a years; it was done to save money on the cost of staffing a call center. In a decade of technological advances, the most common perception of customer service is that if you call you will have to talk to a machine, not a real person. We are obviously not a high performing organization if we are implementing a system that is more automated based and less personal. "High performing organizations that have a relentless focus on customer results deliver Legendary Service. As we discussed, Legendary Service goes beyond merely good customer service." (Blanchard, 2010, p. 35) Obviously automating a customer call center is not an example of how to provide legendary service.

The example that I found most interesting from our textbook was the details of the Ritz-Carlton operations. Specifically the example of Ritz-Carlton Hotels providing each employee with a discretionary fund for customer service purposes stood out the most in my mind. "Every employee was given a $2,000 discretionary fund that they could use to solve a customer problem without checking with anyone." (Blanchard, 2010, p. 51) Ritz-Carlton's Management placed their employees in a position to handle a customer's problems in any manner they deemed necessary. "An empowering leader provides an employee with autonomy and prospects for self-determination by encouraging the individual to decide how to carry out his or her job" (ZHANG, 2010, p. 4) Ritz-Carton's Management is demonstrating its ability to lead and empower its employees in an attempt to maximize the customer experience and improve customer satisfaction. In an article written by Xiaomeng Zhang and Kathryn Bartol, they explore the relationship between empowerment and employee creativity.

An empowering leader tends to enhance the meaningfulness of work by helping an employee understand the importance of his or her contribution to overall organizational effectiveness. Second, an empowering leader expresses confidence in an employee's competence and prospects for high performance.(ZHANG, 2010, p. 4).

When you give employees the ability to think and act on their own, the employee feels more personally responsible for the success of the organization. The Ritz-Carlton Management has been able to build success by placing its employees in positions where they can have a direct impact on their clients' experience:

this process potentially gives an employee a feeling of greater control over the immediate work situation and an enhanced sense that his or her own behaviors can make a difference in work results, thus promoting the sense of impact (ZHANG, 2010, p. 4).

The Ritz-Carlton example of the housekeeper who flew to Hawaii to personally deliver the businessman's laptop because she didn't trust the overnight delivery service to get it there on time; shows an extremely high level of customer service. While this example is a bit extreme and in my mind a bit much; this particular employee felt this was she needed to do for this customer. This is where the Ritz-Carlton has truly empowered its people and provided them with no questions asked discretionary fund to help customers. Obviously by empowering their employees, Ritz-Carlton is operating as a high performing organization. The leaders of the Ritz-Carlton believe that "an empowering leader fosters an employee's participation in decision making" (Manz & Sims, 1987, p.19). Ritz Carlton is following the model that places the employees in a position where they can make decisions that both benefit the customer and speak to the integrity and dedication of the organization. "The traditional pyramid hierarchy must be turned upside down so that the frontline people who are the closest to the customers are at the top" (Blanchard, 2010, p. 48). This is the model that the Ritz-Carlton has employed to ensure its' employees have the ability and power to address customer issues. It puts the front line employees who interact with the customers the most in a position where they can ensure the customer remains satisfied with the service they are receiving. Terry Bacon and David Pugh explored the operational success that Ritz-Carlton has with their hotels and came to this conclusion:

We chose The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company as an exemplar of behavioral differentiation not only because its people behave in ways that positively differentiate their hotels from rival hotel chains but also because Ritz-Carlton is a high performing organization in every respect, and operational behavioral differentiation is the principal reason for its success (Bacon, 2004, p. 2).

I applaud and commend Ritz-Carlton for taking the steps to ensure that its customers are treated with the best customer service. It does speak to the quality of the organization when it ensures its customers receive the best service possible. It speaks to the integrity and commitment that the Ritz-Carlton Organization has put in establishing an environment that fosters a high level of customer service. By empowering their employees Ritz-Carlton has ensured continued success within their organizational operations. Arthur Yeung interviewed Mark Decocinis, General Manager of the Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, China, in an effort to learn how:

the Portman Ritz-Carlton has not only been named as the "Best Employer in Asia" by Hewitt Associates three consecutive times, but has also rated the highest in employee satisfaction among all of the Ritz-Carlton's 59 hotels worldwide for five consecutive years" (Yeung, 2006, p. 1).

In the interview Mark expressed an opinion about Ritz-Carlton's employee talent around the world, "People have pride and want to express themselves and they want to have the freedom to do their jobs. Everyone wants the support to do their jobs. That's the best benefit of Ritz-Carlton" (Yeung, 2006, p. 7). This quote accurately describes the Ritz-Carlton's employees. They want to succeed at their jobs and being empowered by the company has placed them in a position to take a more active role in the daily success of the company. Ritz-Carlton is an example of a High Performing Organization that has utilized the empowerment technique to get the best results from its employees and provide the best customer service in the industry.

There are some industries where customer service is critical for success and continued future sales. It is these situations where leaders are challenged to ensure that their organization and its employees are working towards a common goal of striving towards excellent customer service. "Organizations that provide Legendary Service are masters of listening to their customers" (Blanchard, 2010, p. 44). In addition to empowering their people, highly performing organizations make sure they listen to their customers and take the feedback to ensure they are meeting the needs of their customers. At the end of the day a company that is dependent on customer satisfaction for return business needs to listen to customers' complaints and compliments to ensure their efforts are focused in the right places.




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