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Front and Center: Successful Companies Empower Their Frontline

By Amy Downs June 01, 2016

When I first joined video conferencing company Lifesize several years ago, our support Net Promoter Score was negative four. Needless to say, this was not a ringing endorsement of our customer relationship skills and certainly was nowhere near Customer Obsession. So I immediately set out to learn what was wrong. And I quickly discovered the problem: we were simply not responsive to the needs of our customers. But why? One reason was that our frontline tech support team was not empowered to make decisions on their own.


To me, this made zero sense. This team talks to our customers more than anyone else in our business. They’re engaging with our customers all day every day. But this frontline team was hesitant to make decisions, because no one had ever given them the authority to do so.

The most common complaint we received from customers was they never heard back from us. They would submit a ticket and it would just go into a black hole. Why? Our frontline support staff were reluctant to reply to customers because they had never been trusted to make decisions on their own and provide real answers.  In many cases, problems were being worked, but the team was reluctant or not secure in their responses back to customers. 

Cleary, this needed to change and quickly. So we introduced a radically different approach. Going forward, our frontline people would be encouraged to act like managers, while our managers would be encouraged to act like support staff. Our frontline team would be expected to make decisions and judgment calls, while our managers would be expected to remove any roadblocks that prevented the frontline folks from taking charge and making the decisions they thought best.

We introduced five guiding principles to enable this to happen.  You may remember the white board from our last article, “Building a Command Center at HQ to Save your SaaS in the Field”

Principle #1: Help your customer, help your coworker, do your job. This is our new ladder of priorities. It reminds our support people to always put customers first and assures them that they’ll never get a reprimand for doing so. If you have 10 different things on your plate, the first thing you should prioritize is the thing that helps a customer. Your next priority is helping your coworkers, because by helping them you’re usually helping a customer. Then do your job.

Principle #2: Make customers’ lives easy. In the world of technology, it’s easy to think the problem is not ours when a customer has a problem. Maybe the customer’s network has a glitch, maybe bandwidth is insufficient, maybe there’s a faulty cable causing a problem that has nothing to do with our product. Regardless, the fact remains that the customer is having an issue. And to make the customer’s life easier, we tell our support people that there is no such thing as “their problem.” All problems are our problem and we will do what we can, within the realm of possibility, to help customers solve these problems.

Principle #3: Use good judgment. This is about intuition and instinct. Does it feel like the decisions you’re making are benefiting the customer? If so, you’re on the right track.

Principle #4: Do the right thing. This means acting with integrity and authenticity. It also means doing the right thing not just for our external customers but also internal customers—the people we work with each and every day.

Principle #5: “No” needs executive approval. Saying no is an easy way of exiting a situation and moving on to the next one. But this leaves the customer holding the bag. So we try never to say no to our customers. Although this does not mean we always say yes. We train our team to avoid saying no off the bat and to spend time figuring out the right answer for our customers. We are passionate problem solvers. And if we ever do have to say no to a customer, then approval from an executive in our C-suite is required.

By following these five principles, we’ve moved from a support Net Promoter Score of minus 4 to plus 70 today. It took two years and a total shift in mindset to get here. At first, frontline team members would come to my office often and ask for permission to do this or that for a customer. I wouldn’t answer. I’d just point to the guiding principles written on my whiteboard. Are you using good judgment? Are you doing the right thing? Are you making life easy for the customer? They’d say things like, yeah, I think so. Then I’d tell them to go back out there and just do what felt right. Over time, people stopped coming to my office because they realized they had the autonomy to make their own decisions and do what they love to do—help customers.

Our company is now powered by empowered employees. We’ve eliminated the top-down management structure in which all ideas trickle down from the executive suite. Instead, we’ve implemented a more collaborative approach in which frontline team members are the ones who come up with great ideas based on what they hear from customers.

For instance, our frontline team recently came up with the idea of sending a small token of appreciation to customers who, for whatever reason, have had a good or bad experience. The support team worked with our marketing team to create personalized, hand-written cards that they send to customers, along with a cool gadget, like a Nerf toy or a quadcopter. It’s nothing fancy. It’s just a way of showing we care about our customers. And it works.

Empowering the folks on the frontline is critical to the success of any business. The more engaged your people are, the more creative they get and the better you get. Flip the script. Lead with your frontline. These are the people who know your customers best, these are the people who ensure you have good customer relationships—and these are the people who will determine how well your company succeeds.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Chief Customer Success and Happiness Officer, Lifesize

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