How to Empower Your Front-line Employees

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One of the key customer satisfaction techniques is the need to provide front-line employees with the ability to respond to customer situations quickly without the need to "ask for permission."

Why is Empowering Front-line Employees important?

Every organization needs to have processes for front-line employees to follow. But management cannot guess everything that could or possibly could arise. Basically, not all situations will be covered by policy manuals and process definitions.

1. Empowering employees will allow them to adapt to specific customer situations quickly

2. With front-line employee empowerment properly set up, management will spend less time providing permission for exceptions and more time managing high leverage tasks.

3. Failure to provide empowerment to front-line employees will cause unnecessary delays in resolution to problems for customers, with possible escalations to senior management or possible customer defection.

4. Managers will be less productive as they will need to review situations and make decisions about whether or not to grant an accommodation to the customer.

5. Without empowerment, front-line employees will feel less in control of their ability to satisfy customers. Morale could be impacted.

What is Empowerment of Front-line Employees?

In Tom Peters’ book, The Little Big Things, he talks about a few incidents with various suppliers where front-line employees felt empowered to step outside their normal day to day routine, broken the rules, or opened the store earlier, in order to satisfy a customer. Little things mean a lot. In his book, in chapter 132, Tom Peters talks about a few happy situations, where employees have gone out their way (and outside their management’s directives) to satisfy him.

Tom Peters’ question to Managers: "Do you authorize- encourage everyone (100 percent) to break the rules ‘a little bit’ so as to stretch for the customer?"

How to Empower Front-line Employees

1. Provide empowerment and funding for front-line employees. My son has a friend who is a teller in one of the local banks. Tellers at that bank are authorized to fix customer problems without seeking permission up to $50.00 per day.

2. Provide guidance and training to employees on examples of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable use of the ‘fix it fund’. Fine tune with additional training as new situations arise.

3. Celebrate role models. This will generate more of the kind of behavior you want to encourage.

4. Monitor feedback from front-line employees on the most common issues. Take action to reduce the cause of customer problems.

5. Repeat: train, celebrate, monitor and fix root causes of problems.

What to do next?

1. If you don’t have an empowerment strategy for front-line employees, decide with your management team to try one, even as a pilot.

2. Plan out the strategy with the management team and get buy-in.

3. Decide how the "empowerment" will be administered. If there are funds that will be provided, how are they accessed by the front-line employee? What is the process of documentation, if any? What is the financial limit and how will it be measured?

4. Gather early results and lessons learned.

5. Address root causes of problems to avoid them in the future

6. Fine tune and roll out across the organization

7. Repeat the fine tuning and analyzing root causes of problems. Measure usage of the program and financial limits.

Does your organization empower front-line employees?

Share your experiences. Leave your comments and suggestions, your observations or what you have learned from this post.

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