Is Customer Service Dead Because of a Lack of Employee Autonomy?

Apr 27, 2022 | Assessment, Executive Coaching

Not long ago, we went on our first international executive retreat for inclineHR.  We were going to be out of town for 9 days, so it was a perfect opportunity to get some scheduled car repairs done at one of the “best” places in town.   The service manager assured me that the repairs would be done by the time we returned home; in summary, they weren’t.

There was a litany of excuses all seemingly “out of the hands” of the people doing the work.  All in all, multiple promises were broken; the job took 27 days to complete and caused plenty of inconvenience.  The manager volunteered that he was working on a discount for us which we thought was a nice gesture, that was until his boss said that they were “unable” to offer any discount.  There was not even an apology.

It was a bad customer experience that could’ve been made “right,” but the manager wasn’t empowered to protect the reputation of their business.  He likely lacked the psychological safety to push back on his boss.  Yes, we left feeling that customer service was dead and that our recurring business meant nothing to them.  We won’t be back.



In a 2014 TED Talk titled “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” Simon Sinek says, “If you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do remarkable things.” The right environment is marked with trust and cooperation. These two intangible qualities are only possible when leaders set the tone.

When you get the environment wrong, your people expend a lot of mental and emotional energy protecting themselves against their co-workers, customers, and you. It’s close to impossible to deal generously with a customer while covering your backside.

Managers must make it clear to their teams that it’s OK to voice dissent or constructive criticism when systems or policy no longer function to serve the company goals.

Do your employees have the psychological safety required to take care of their customer? Do they have the liberty to use their judgment to help further your brand reputation? Or, are they simply doing as they’re told, giving minimal effort, and living in fear of discipline “up to and including termination” for not following the rules?



A published article by Forbes reports employees who are given low empowerment are willing to give extra effort only 4% of the time. When empowerment is high in a work environment, two-thirds of employees (67%) are willing to go the extra mile for their teammates, manager, or customer.

Studies show employees who have psychological safety are far more productive…and loyal.  At a time when three out of four people are looking to change jobs, retention has to be a critical success factor in managing cost associated with churn.

Empowering employees is an intangible investment in your people that can yield measurable results in customer satisfaction rates, net promoter scores, employee retention/ job satisfaction, and P&L statements.



It starts at the top, but it gets pushed down to the front-line worker quickly. Leadership is a quality that can be developed over a lifetime, and it is not to be confused with title. Some people are considered leaders on merit of their rank and authority but would not score highly on a 360 Feedback Assessment that evaluates 8 different competencies critical for success.

Often, we think of the CEO as the face of the company, and on a certain level that’s correct. But if you’re in the service industry, the face of the company can be an entry-level employee who either does or doesn’t have the capacity and permission to make a decision that’s good for both the customer and brand. This makes finding leaders at all levels vitally important.

Evaluate the talent on your front-line. Look for people who exhibit a core personality and attitude that enhance your company values. A team leader should also be competent in all operations commensurate with their level of responsibility. Do they have the physical, mental, and emotional capacity to deliver at a high level day in and day out? And most importantly, do they have the courage to speak up when things are not right? Passionate, unfiltered dialogue leads to creative solutions in the workplace.



If you’re in a position of authority, take the lead in creating an environment where your employees are more agile in handling problems, more productive in their efforts, and more loyal to the company. Give them the psychological security to exercise a little autonomy for the betterment of the brand when it comes to customer satisfaction.

As Sir Richard Branson famously said, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

To which I say, “One certain repair shop” will never have the opportunity to take care of our family ever again.”

If you want to discover where the highest potential leaders are within your organization, contact inclineHR to learn more.


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