Mastering the Moment of Truth

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At SurePayroll, we have always lived by the philosophy that employees should feel empowered to handle hard customer service situations without having to consult a superior. As long as we select and train the right employees, they should be able to walk away from an interaction knowing they "did right by the customer." It's crucial to our success.

I had the opportunity to validate this thinking after reading Jan Carlzon's book Moments of Truth, where the former CEO of Scandinavian Airlines System details how he grew the business by encouraging risk-taking and trusting employees with authority.

It comes down to the fact that employees should feel comfortable and knowledgeable enough to deal with delicate customer situations on the spot.

We make it a point to give our employees the tools they need to make the right decisions, and then step back and let them follow through. When a customer emergency comes up, we have to trust that we've empowered our team to think fast and handle it in a way that delights the customer.

A customer's interaction with an employee is so important, I can't stress it enough. It frequently comes down to these little moments of truth playing a large role in the customer's perception of your business. Sometimes, the customer service will be even more important to the customer than the quality of your products or services. You don't want to lose a customer just because your employee didn't have the knowledge and assurance to appropriately respond to the situation without checking with superiors. They should always know how to respond. You can't anticipate or control moments of truth. They just happen.

Instead of trying to prepare your employees for moments of truth through a specific plan or process, the best thing you can do is simply trust them to make good decisions on the fly. As long as you hire the best people, you don't have to hold their hands or guide them.

As an example, my friend Pete told me he used the same car rental service for his entire adult life, and then one day they didn't have a vehicle for him. So, he was forced to use another rental company. When he called the new company, he let an employee know he was a new customer. The employee told him how happy she was that he decided to try them out, and automatically upgraded him to a nicer rental for no extra charge. And, when he showed up at the company's location in January, in Minnesota, his rental car was waiting for him, turned on, warmed up, and ready to go. Pete's old rental company didn't give him that kind of service. I can assure you that the new company earned Pete's future business, and they may well receive the business of every person Pete tells the story to, including me.

So give your employees the power and confidence to make these types of decisions in the "moment of truth" and watch the result -- more loyal customers who just may tell their friends stories about how great your company is.

Last updated: Oct 19, 2009

MICHAEL ALTER | Columnist | President of SurePayroll

Michael Alter is president of SurePayroll, America?s leading online payroll service. He received an MBA from the Harvard Business School and holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Northwestern University.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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