XPG Insights

Staffing industry recruiting news, advice and thought leadership.

XPG Insights

Staffing industry recruiting news, advice and thought leadership.

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Heroes and Zeros

In a post on leadership consultant Mark Sanborn’s blog, he writes about a time he paid for an antivirus software download for his PC after his current license expired. What should have been a process lasting a few minutes turned into a multi-day ordeal. The software update froze his computer, and he couldn’t restart it or fix the problem. He spent several days talking to a total of eight customer service reps by phone or email, and finally had to pay a technician $250 to fix the problem (more than three times the cost of the software.) 

The experience got him thinking about the customer service reps who tried to help. He realized that they were all hiding behind taking action. They took the steps recommended by the company, but they failed to solve the problem. 

Sanborn writes: “Zeros hide behind taking action. Heroes take responsibility.” 

He says, “Going through the normal process these reps followed automatically didn’t fix my computer or salvage my loyalty. If any one of those people had taken responsibility, the outcome would have been entirely different.” 

How many times have you experienced this kind of service from a company? Staff are given a script to follow, and some even do it well. But if the script doesn’t produce results, they are often at a loss. They have limited training and limited authority to make things right. And because they followed the script, they’re off the hook for the end result. 

Sanborn’s recipe for creating zeros in an organization includes letting your people take only the action necessary to stay out of trouble, passing the buck, and blaming others or circumstances for lack of results. We’ve also seen plenty of staff members blame the system itself for problems. If the system is creating customer dissatisfaction and the staff don’t tell leadership, shame on them. If they’ve told leadership and nothing changes, shame on the company. 

As companies get bigger, it’s harder to create heroes, but it can be done. One company that gets it right is the Ritz Carlton hotel chain, legendary for its customer service. Every staff member at a property has been trained and empowered to handle any problem a customer brings to them. No matter their position on the staff (from cleaning crew to front desk), the staff member that catches the problem owns the problem until it is solved. Every staff member (again, from cleaning crew to top management) also has a discretionary fund they can spend every day to make the customer’s experience more memorable or fix a problem. No questions asked.  

That may cost the company some money, but it can generate many thousands of dollars in return business. Leadership consultant Glenn Shepard often tells the story about traveling to a dealership to purchase an expensive car. At one point the sales rep asks Glenn if he’d like a beverage. Glenn asks for a Diet Coke. When the rep returns, he tells Glenn the Diet Coke costs $1.25. Glenn says the deal was dead in that moment; if the dealership staff weren’t empowered to spend $1.25 on a customer who was intending to buy a $30,000 car, it wasn’t the right place to give his business. He didn’t buy that day, but he called the sales manager of the dealership to tell him the story. The manager apologized and took steps to deliver excellent service – and the $30,000 BMW. 

Glenn says the story is a great example of how one employee almost killed the deal because he didn’t care, while another saved it because he did. 

How is your organization working to create heroes?