Empowering front-line personnel is truly the "last mile" of CRM — the critical moment for winning over customers with a message that you care about them. Succeed here and you can generate customer satisfaction and loyalty. Fail here and not only could you lose customers, you may also create a vocal detractor who goes out of their way to "dislike" your brand.
Don’t make the mistake of investing in CRM without considering how your front-line engages your customers. Whether the front-line personnel are retail store associates, contact center service representatives, front-desk hotel staff, or your field sales team, empowerment is critical to making your CRM and customer strategies effective. While all employees need to feel empowered to act in a customer-focused manner, empowering front-line employees is critical.
Your ability to empower your front-line to achieve CRM goals depends a lot on your operating model. A highly centralized, command-and-control organization with strict standard operating procedures (SOPs) is less likely to be able to execute "empowered front-line CRM." Take McDonald’s, for example. McDonald’s teaches operational standards and tactics, and succeeds on the basis of standardization and related efficiency. Fast food customers want convenience and tasty food at a good price, and are generally willing to engage with an order-taker who may be less empowered to deviate from SOPs.
Organizations oriented more towards values and attitudes than operational efficiency are far more likely to be successful with CRM. Luxury hoteliers and upscale retailers, such as Four Seasons and Nordstrom, "teach" service standards and values, then empower their people to act on those values. Typically these organizations are more decentralized, with operating elements that are largely independent (individual hotels, individual stores). The higher price points associated with such companies mean that customers expect more in terms of both product and service.
But that doesn’t mean that companies with strict SOPs can’t provide flexibility or empower their front-line. Evolving technology has allowed the front-line to focus less on transactions and more on customer engagement. Modern point-of-sale systems simplify the purchase process and relay key customer information, if available. In such cases, front-line personnel can engage the customer with purchase recommendations. For example, retailers may have segments such as "value seekers" or "family buyers." The store associate can be trained to recommend special offers or specific items for these segments, and the point-of-sale system can remind the associate to make those offers or recommendations.
One last example — we heard just the other day about the title that a company gives to its receptionist: Director, First Impressions. Front-line associates are also drivers of first impressions. Are you empowering them to put the best face on your enterprise?