You go into an establishment in Jamaica and make a simple request for an adjustment to a current package they are offering. Let’s say this happens to be a fast food restaurant, the convo goes a bit like this:
Clerk: Hello, welcome to Fast Food Jamaica. May I take your order? (Yeah right. We all know you don’t get that but for argument’s sake, let’s say you did)
You: I’d like Burger Combo #2 but with coffee instead of soda.
Clerk: I’m sorry but we don’t offer that. Would you like me to cash it separately?
You: You mean you are going to charge me for the soda but not give it to me?
Clerk: Well you can have the soda if you’d like but it can’t be replaced with coffee.
You: And why not?
Clerk: Because…that’s not our policy.
How many times has something like this happened to you? For me – TOO MANY! It led me to explore the topic of empowerment of front line employees. Giving employees enough power to make certain decisions on their own without having to consult the manager, or even worse, turn down or upset a client or customer. The cost of a lost customer is huge – it is said that it is 10x easier to retain a customer than to gain a new one. And if you’re an entrepreneur who’s managing a company that you are trying to grow, you probably don’t want your employees calling you for every little problem they encounter.
To me, it sounds pretty easy. All the textbooks and professional development books I’ve read recommend it. Yet, we haven’t put it into practice much in Jamaica and I couldn’t figure out why. So I put out the question to my Twitter followers yesterday to see if they could provide some insight.
Everyone agreed unanimously that this was a major problem in Jamaica. To quote @Top5Jamaica,
Definitely. It’s a major issue for me with cust(omer) service here in Jamaica. Not sure why it is like that. Most times as there’s a hint of whatever, I don’t even bother with the frontline, I just ask to speak to the manager.
When ask if they think it could change, they volunteered several reasons. @jcankash stated that our culture of ‘whatever the boss says, goes’ simply doesn’t encourage autonomy on the part of lower level staff, while @PatMack_JM and @jloton suggested that it had a lot to do with trusting your employees. Some people just aren’t used to that kind of power and wouldn’t know what to do with it and some would take it too far.
Of course, my next objective was to obtain ideas on how we can go about implementing change. No point in talking problems if we’re not talking solutions right? Only @apachieomg58 volunteered her recommendations in this area – she indicated that what we need is accountability. If these employees making decisions have to provide a report at the end of the day, they will think carefully about the decisions they make. This offers up a bit of a balance – giving them the power to make immediate choices but being able to still retain control at the end of the day.
Another factor that should be considered is the hiring and training of staff. Look for trustworthy employees with the right attitude that fits your business culture. When training, focus on the ‘why’ they are doing a task more that ‘how’ they should do it. This way, if something goes wrong, they can decisions that will lead to the same end result – the result that you desire.
Tim Ferriss wrote in his book ’4 Hour Workweek’ that the only way he got to the point of being able to travel the world, run a company and only have to work for 4 hours was by allowing his employees and agencies to make certain decisions on his behalf. His method was to allow them to fix any problems or complaints as long as it cost the company less than a certain amount. The way he calculated this was by estimating how much it would cost for them to wait for him to decide on fixing it or what a lost customer would mean. According to him, this approach has worked like a dream thus far. I don’t know about you but I definitely like the sound of a 4 hour workweek. And just look at the Ritz Carlton’s employee empowerment strategy and see how well that’s going!
If you are a manager, try implementing this for a while. You can always revert if it doesn’t work. But think of how much less you will be bothered for simple customer complaints that can be troubleshooted and fixed on the spot. If you’re not a manager, well, recommend it to a stressed-out, overworked manager or owner you know.
So there you have it folks. Let’s look beyond the factors we think are stopping us and start looking at how we can improve business and customer service in Jamaica. I’d be a happy woman if I never had to hear ‘It’s not our policy’ again.
Share your thoughts, opinions, criticisms, everything else in the comments below.