Empowered employees can make things right

“We feel you had to wait too long for your lunches, so they will be free,” our waitress, Maggie, told us as she refilled our beverages and cleared plates. “Wow, that’s a surprise,” my friend Chuck said to her.

“Well, we don’t think our service to you has been as good as it should be, and when it's not we try to make things right,” she added.

What’s most notable is that, while we did wait awhile for our lunch, we never complained or said a word about it to Maggie. Rather, she took it upon herself to make our four lunches complimentary, informing her manager, Kari Jupin, at the Village Inn in Clearwater, Fla., who backed up Maggie’s decision.

What an example of empowering employees to be customer-oriented, I thought as I walked out knowing they had just locked up my future business. And, as this sort of thing always seems to do, it got me wondering just how much authority and freedom we give employees in our dealerships to “make things right?”

It seems clear that Jupin has developed a culture at her Village Inn that employees are empowered to make decisions when it comes to good customer service. And, frankly, it will result in exactly what I’m sure Jupin wants to accomplish – keeping my future business.

Here’s another good example of empowering employees. Have you seen the latest TV commercial by Enterprise Rent-A-Car? It features Enterprise employees who make a simple but powerful point that each of them can make things right. “I don’t have to make a call or find a manager,” says one employee, “I can make it right.”

It’s more than just a good commercial – it actually reflects the culture of Enterprise. And it’s likely the reason Enterprise, founded by Jack Taylor in the basement of his St. Louis car dealership and named after the aircraft carrier he served on as a World War II pilot, is today the largest car rental company in North America.

In the book about Enterprise entitled “Exceeding Customer Expectations” (a good read for everyone), the culture of completely satisfied customers is detailed. In fact, to ensure customer service is never compromised, Enterprise has a consistent way of measuring its customer satisfaction. It’s the Enterprise Service Quality Index.

Every month, the index is measured for each local branch through telephone surveys. Each branch earns a ranking based on the percentage of its customers who say they are completely satisfied with their latest Enterprise experience. Enterprise claims two important benefits of its index: (1) it builds up lifelong relationships with customers; and (2) it links employees’ careers and financial rewards to consistent superior service.

Finally, the culture of customer service at Enterprise also results in new ideas and successes coming from the bottom up rather than just from the top down. For example: the trademark slogan “We’ll Pick You Up” didn’t come from the top. It resulted from a branch manager in Orlando, Fla., who started providing his customers with a free ride to the rental office.

So customer satisfaction can be a culture that pays off. The question is how empowered is the team at your dealership? It’s worth some serious think-time.


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