Jan 2, 2008

Say it with flowers

Richard Kunst (www.kunstartofsolutions.com) recently wrote about employee empowerment in his weekly e-newsletter. He pointed out that people, not departments, are responsible for things. That reminded me of a time when making it personal paid off. One of our marketing people accidentally put the wrong 800 number in a brochure. The person who owned the number was getting calls for us. She looked up our number and called to tell us about the problem. She could have just turned callers away with a "Don't bother me" response, but she was willing to refer callers to us if we'd give her the right number.

This was embarrassing for us and an imposition on her, and I was grateful that she was willing to be so helpful. So I called FTD and sent her flowers with an apology for the mistake. It's amazing how happy a gesture like that can make someone feel. Doesn't work for every situation and an ideal system is mistake-proofed, but when mistakes happen there's sometimes an unorthodox way to make a save. I learned from a publisher once that just sending a book from stock to a disgruntled customer could turn him or her completely around. It works, and costs only a few bucks.

I wielded managerial authority when I sent the flowers, but what if the person taking the call could have done the same? What if someone sent you flowers when you were the victim of a business snafu? Could your customer service people be empowered to send flowers?

1 comment:

Richard Durnall said...

Reminds me of an article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review a long time ago. I think it was about a company called Johnsonville Sausage Factory?
The guy who owned the company had always had aspirations of becoming a national player but never achieved his goal. When he retired he told all his staff that he wasn't interested in the business any more, that it didn't matter to him financially and now it was up to them. He inadvertantly empowered the whole business.
Within six months the business achieved a level that he hadn't been able to lead them to in his whole career.
When he looked at the business he found that the line employees were doing the taste testing, quality assurance, hiring and firing and the other activities that he had been responsible for previously. Empowering the average employee and harnessing their talent achieved things he'd been aiming for with a 'command and control' approach for something like 40 years.
I find embedding these kind of empowerment principles in organisations a real challenge. I'm always keen to hear good ideas in this area...

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