When we talk about the engagement and empowerment of employees, a new-wave of management practices spring to mind. Sometimes we’re compelled to envision open-plan offices in East London, staffed by millennials in jeans, playing ping-pong whilst occasionally taking breaks to send vague emails whilst supping on artisan coffees.
This isn’t the kind of fluff we have in mind when it comes to customer service agent empowerment. Genuine empowerment creates increasingly productive, efficient and happy employees who are equipped to deliver great customer experiences. In many cases, customer service agent empowerment can create customer experiences so great they elevate the brand to a status nothing short of legendary.
The rise of mobile
On 28th April '94, the the mobile brand Orange launched. In an emerging mobile market, Orange were a new breed of company driven by new ideas and practices. At the heart of its offering was customer-centricity, which was only made possible by empowered agents.
Many of us today regard the customer experience as something largely governed by the interfaces and services of unicorn companies, like Facebook, or Uber. But when mobile and telecom services as we know them today had barely started to develop, it’s rather difficult to create a seamless and flawless experience with the technology itself.
In the early 90s, the only people with mobile phones were yuppies. Orange made it possible for everyone to enjoy mobile, but of course, the company and its services had teething problems. Coverage started off at 50% nationwide, and myriad issues became a bane for the business and customers alike.
Consumer expectations started to shift, and the fast-growing company dealt with new problems using new approaches.
Customer service agent empowerment paved the way
Customer service was at the core of the success of the company. Orange started out with a small number of contact centres serving 100,000 people, to a customer function that delivered services to over a million in just a couple of years. It was a journey for an entire market, for the business, its staff, and its customers.
Orange invested in two things, technology, and people. Customer management software was in place across the organisation that was scalable, but the most important thing was how the brand empowered its staff.
When I started with the company as a temporary customer service rep, there was the buzz of a collaborative atmosphere in the air. Everyone felt like a genuine team and shared information and developed each others skills wherever possible. Sure, targets were in place too, but these felt almost secondary to the common goal of putting the customer first. We were all encouraged to contribute to improvements wherever they were needed in the business, everyone’s input was deemed significant despite role or seniority.
It wasn’t uncommon to see the Managing Director and senior management coming to see teams taking calls. They had a direct line into the business and ensured everyone was enthused and bought into the goal of the entire organisation.
This is what separated the most successful mobile brand of all time from the rest, and there’s no doubt that today's companies have many a lesson to learn from the ghosts of empowerment past.