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These days, it seems that the feel-good word “empowerment” is being used to give lip service to the well-being of everyone from struggling activists to profit-seeking global corporations.
Interesting fact about empowerment: nobody can empower someone else; people must empower themselves. You can support people who need to become empowered in ways that allow them to more easily take ownership of projects, take pride in what they’re doing, become effective and thereby personally powerful, and the like, but you can’t empower them.
OK, so the title of this article is a grammar problem, but “empowering people” still sounds enchanting. Regardless of how they access personal power, there’s no denying that empowered people are likely going to be more effective, more motivated, and happier. When you’ve gotten empowered, you’ve got the keys to success, and possibly a competitive advantage.
Let’s drill down: what does empowerment mean, specifically, in terms of employee effectiveness and satisfaction?
Workplace empowerment is “the ways in which organizations provide their employees with a certain degree of autonomy and control in their day-to-day activities,” states the American Society for Quality. Examples of how this empowerment might manifest are managers encouraging employees to suggest and participate in implementing process improvements, allowing worker bees to take an active role in spearheading corporate initiatives, and letting people work relatively autonomously without having to fend off management meddling.
Let’s face it, in addition to these “official” empowerment methods, there are lots of other “proven” ways to make employees feel empowered, ranging from simply paying them what they’re worth to providing free ice cream to granting them regular “wellness days” to hang out with their kids or lie on the beach. What’s not to love about being an empowered employee?
What is empowerment in terms of customer-service skills?
Let’s talk about empowering the employees who are a customer service team. That touches on specifics like letting each customer support representative choose what to do for a customer on a call based on the customer’s particular needs, as well as what the rep knows from their own problem-solving experience in the past.
What such empowerment doesn’t encompass is needing a manager to sign off on every step you decide to take in the support process and letting you work without someone kibitzing over your shoulder. If you’ve worked in customer support, maybe you’ve experienced how downright irritating it is to be micromanaged. You can lose confidence in your manager, quit trusting them, and perhaps start to resent them (and vow to find a new job). Instead of feeling free to speak up with ideas for a good customer service experience, you try to hunker down and “just do your job” for fear of receiving manufactured negative feedback or being unjustly fired.
Unfortunately, that closed-down, survival-focused approach can contribute to a negative experience not just for you but for your angsting customers. It can get in the way of customer support agents communicating openly and productively with people about their issues and striving to provide excellent customer satisfaction.
But let’s get back to how to empower your customer support team (oops, how to help them empower themselves)….
Here’s a short list of four key tactics that can facilitate the building of an empowered-feeling, great customer support team, a better customer experience, a never-ending supply of grateful and loyal customers, and, of course, the higher revenue that all of this can inevitably usher in.
“Easier said than done,” you’re probably thinking. Maybe, but it’s worth a try, and you might be surprised by how you can impact your call center situation and customer service agents’ lives. As a support exec or manager, back up from trying to empower your reps by doing random things like bringing them donuts. Instead, focus on trying to make their work lives better by reducing their workloads.
That would certainly mean less stress and pressure for them, more room to breathe, more opportunities to focus on excelling at helping the poor souls who can’t or don’t want to resolve their issues without talking to a sympathetic live person who knows how to fix the problem.
Of course it would. But how do you reduce support calls?
Let us count the ways: design and manufacture high-quality products, usability test them up one side and down the other before launch, provide crystal-clear instructions and help documentation in plain English, let customers easily and comprehensively search for the information they need in your online database…hey, let’s start with that last one.
Yep, you can reduce the flow of angst-ridden customer inquiries that may be currently bombarding your support reps by providing your customers with top-notch, AI-powered federated search that can lead them straight to the information they need to solve their problems.
Federated search is simply search that lets customers query for answers by searching multiple data sources in one single, easy-to-use interface. For instance, a customer who has a broken wine cooler might locate the digital version of the paper instruction booklet that came with it (which they’d subsequently filed for safekeeping and “lost”), along with a tips for troubleshooting technical problems and FAQs subsequently drafted by the customer service team. The FAQs might contain the secret to fixing the failing fridge and getting back to drinking wine chilled at the correct temperature without ever having to pick up the phone.
Another tool for reducing support calls and enhancing customer success is a semantic search engine that’s dedicated to self-service support and has the artificial intelligence to understand complex support queries.
Algolia Answers for customer support, which integrates with help desks, is one example. With this AI-powered software, when a customer asks a question, for example, while interacting with a chatbot, the search engine saves time by locating the best answer it can find in your support documentation and showing that to the customer first. Providing the right information fast is providing good customer support.
So yes, there are concrete ways you can start taking the load off of your support reps. And when your customers — or even a subset of them — can empower themselves by successfully resolving their issues before they need to anxiously dig around for your 800 number, you could easily end up with not only happier support reps but lower customer-support costs.
Assuming that a customer can’t find what they need through federated search, their next step is going to be to contact Support. It’s Go Time.
At this point, how can you empower your customer support team’s boots on the ground?
There’s arguably nothing that can do it better than having in place a well-functioning internal knowledge management system (KMS).
An effective (“empowered”?) KMS that enables an effective customer support experience puts the information customer support reps need in front of them. They can also utilize a KMS to follow along with issue resolution, as well as store and surface troubleshooting tips that could help support agents more quickly close tickets.
A knowledge base for a support team’s use can also improve customer service by helping the team members work together in a proactive way. For example, if a change is made to the product flow, the support agents can then update the existing documentation so it’s instantly available to help reps solve problems.
Maybe your knowledge management system is dedicated exclusively to customer service, or maybe it’s more generalized, but it needs to contain all available customer support documentation and provide all key information related to every aspect of the product. When you can check that box, then when a customer asks how to use a feature, your team can access detailed instructions created by technicians who intimately understand the problem and solution.
Having this information in a knowledge base is arguably what most empowers customer support reps and contributes to creating a better customer service. If they don’t have the key information, there’s not much they can do except offer to research the issue, pray that they can find the right information, and vow to get back to the customer as soon as possible (next week?). This kind of drawn-out approach not only comes off as antiquated to the customer, it can make them start to wonder about your product quality standards, ultimately impacting things like your overall customer loyalty.
So we’ve established that having a modern knowledge management system is key among ways to improve customer service. There’s another key detail, however: without excellent enterprise search, your KMS could be just another lonely silo populated with possibly helpful information, but information that’s not accessible to the service agents who need to get their eyeballs on it.
Even if your support reps have considerable understanding of how your products work, they still need access to all pertinent technical support material if they’re going to have any chance of quickly solving people’s problems and leaving them feeling warm and fuzzy.
So a top-notch knowledge management system must be easy for support reps to search. They must be able to pull up the right information for addressing customer needs in real time as they’re hearing about the problem, and be able to start providing a solution on the spot, instead of having to apologize to the customer for their dinosauric information system and offer to get back in touch once they get their act together. If they can’t track down the information they need, they’re not heading in an empowered direction. But when they can quickly access the right material to answer customer questions, assimilate the knowledge, and pass it on, they contribute to improved customer satisfaction by default. Providing excellent customer service can’t help but make them feel highly productive and mightily empowered.
Customer-support success and employee empowerment don’t just impact the customer support rep on the frontline. Successful customer service improvement strategies can prove to be infectious and wide ranging. Positive customer feedback about the support team, whether it’s levied to the CEO or posted on social media, where it might entice new customers, is a win for any company. And it’s a no-brainer, but when reps feel empowered, they typically like their jobs more, will provide positive word-of-mouth comments about the company, and may stick around in their roles longer. At the enterprise level, that can lead to better overall workflow and workplace efficiency.
What else? There’s one more empowerment strategy for positive customer interactions:
Even if support reps are feeling empowered, they may run up against disgruntled customers who are having a bad experience. It’s just a fact of life for business owners, either because something the customer bought on Amazon broke that shouldn’t have broken, or they’re frustrated with the support they’ve received so far, or they’ve had to endure a long response time after being forced to chat with (curse at?) a phone-system robot. A horrible customer-support-access experience can ruin anyone’s day.
There may be no way for people to eliminate the annoyance of having to battle their way to a support rep’s ear, but their angst can then end immediately with a rep’s “How can I help you today?” In our world of ever-increasing automated help, there can be an unbelievably high payoff for support reps who can manage to make a personal connection with their hapless customers. That requires “people skills,” but when it comes to providing the best customer service, cultivating those skills and bending over backward to ensure happy customers and foster customer retention goes hand in hand with empowerment.
Why is it so critical for support reps to make personal connections and focus on customer relationships? The personal touch helps reps meet customers’ expectations, according to McKinsey & Company. The firm advises that in looking toward 2025, ‘companies must meet a new standard: the “care of one,” an ethos that focuses all decision making on serving individual customers and their personalized needs.’
No amount of interaction with robotic automation, effective though its know-how may be, is likely to change the fact that people often crave talking to other live humans. They want someone to actively listen to their concerns, deeply understand what they want, lay out some viable options. They crave customer-centric validation and empathy and soothing. Having a robot tell you to have a nice day (do they do that?) doesn’t cut it if you want to solve customer problems and have satisfied customers.
So the final key to helping your customer service representatives get empowered is to always let your customers access (and quickly, if possible) a warm body whom they can yak with. Even if it’s only for a couple of minutes, and the problem is still not quite solved and they must then be summarily pushed back into an automated system. When it comes to customer support, as with most things in life, a service rep’s personal touch can empower both the customer and the rep like nothing else.
Find out how you can help your support reps make your customers happier and your bottom line more robust with Algolia enterprise search. A live person on our team is looking forward to discussing how you can empower your service reps for better KPIs and greater business success.