The Customer Experience Series: Empower the Frontlines Dammit!


It’s time to stop escalating the customer service issues in your business.

While good leaders allow their subordinates to escalate customer issues, great leaders don’t see many escalated issues at all. This is because great leaders not only allow those on the frontline to solve issues; they expect it.

Would you like to solve your company’s customer service issues in the most efficient manner possible? In a manner that also provides the customer with the best possible experience? Well, then it’s time to empower the frontlines, dammit!

Your frontlines – those closest to the customer –not only control and create the customer experience, they also happen to have all the answers when it comes to solving issues. Plus, as we already learned, customers don’t like to be transferred when working to solve an issue. All of this begs the question: Why don’t you just empower the first person your customer contacts to also solve their issues?

Okay, I’m All In! Now What?

Empowering your team to solve issues is actually a two-step process. While most everyone can tackle the first step, few follow through with the second:

STEP 1: Tell your team in no uncertain terms that they are now able and expected to solve customer issues for themselves.

STEP 2: Stop rewarding them for escalating issues they should have solved.

You see, every time you solve an issue your frontline escalates, you are (in effect) rewarding them for not solving the issue. (While they could certainly solve the issue, passing the buck gets easy and can become a habit.)

If you find yourself able to put the first step in place, but you can’t seem to get the second step fully executed, let me give you an exercise I’ve used myself and with clients in the past. First, gather your frontline team together and explain the following:

“Because I trust each of you to solve our customers’ problems, if any issue makes it all the way up to me, I’m going to give them everything they’re asking for; and then I’m going to pay for this generosity by using our bonus pool.

“This means everyone is going to make a little less money each time I have to solve an issue. I’m not going to ask questions; I’m not going to try to take sides or even investigate. I’m just going to take our customer’s word for it and give them whatever they’re asking for. In other words, I’m just solving it, because I don’t have the time to do my job and yours.”

I was working with a car dealership the last time I had client put this policy in place. Prior to enacting this, the service manager was literally spending more than a few hours every day investigating and solving customer issues escalated to him from his very busy service team. In his words, most every issue began as a minor misunderstanding or just bad communication, but by the time these were escalated to him, the customers were close to enraged.

I spoke with him six months after he put this policy in place, and he reported that he hadn’t had an issue escalated to him in months. More importantly, he said that their online reputation was steadily improving and his service CSI (their manufacturer’s customer service index) was now leading their district (something they had never enjoyed).

Amazingly, his team was creating fewer customer issues all because he empowered his frontlines to solve these (and removed their reward for escalating).

Next up in the series: Ditch the Antiquated Call-Center Metrics!

(If you’re catching this series for the first time, you may want to begin with the first post in the series: Why Does Good Customer Service Matter?)

About TheManager:

Steve Stauning, creator of The Appointment Culture and an expert in The Customer Experience. He is also an extremely popular keynote speaker, writer, and industry consultant. Learn more about Steve at