Your business has clear ideas about how it should present itself to the outside world. This leads to rules and guidelines about how employees should communicate with customers and others on the outside. But when those rules become so rigid that they appear to prevent the employee from helping a customer in need then you will find that what is really needed is balance.
This is a classic customer service problem. Ask most people what they dislike about interacting with a call centre and they will often respond that the agent is impersonal - using a script and unable to just immediately do what is needed to help out.
But is doesn't have to be like this. Your employees handling customers know exactly what the customer needs and they can usually judge how your corporate brand should be represented. So how come more companies don't just ditch all the guidelines and let their employees decide how to represent the brand?
Some do - well, at least they almost do.
Forbes magazine recently published an excellent summary of how hotel employees in the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton chains are given a high degree of autonomy to just do what the customer needs - cutting out the brand guidelines and trusting the employee to always make the hotel look good or helpful.
Instead of creating mountains of guidelines, companies like Ritz Carlton define standards, the standards they expect their employees to reach. Then the employees are cut loose and allowed to help customers however is needed - so long as the standards are maintained there is no need for formal guidelines on every single problem that might occur.
This kind of empowerment also creates a happier team. If your boss trusts you to look after customers without a script or long list or rules then your job is more flexible and more flexibility usually equals a happier team.
What is interesting is that this kind of service is what has become expected on social media platforms. If you contact a brand using an Instant Messaging tool or you send them a tweet then you don't expect the response to be scripted. Agents handling social media enquiries have always been more empowered to just get on with whatever the customer needs - and now this attitude should be integrated into all support channels.
Of course this is great news for the customers. If a customer is asking for help and the agent can more directly jump straight into supporting them then that leads to a more satisfied customer. But it also means that the agents have more freedom and flexibility in their role and can therefore enjoy their role more - helping people faster is a lot more fun.
And this is also great for the company employing the support team, whether it's a service provider like my company or you just hire the people directly. If the support team are enjoying their job more then they will be providing a better service and customers will feel they are looked after - it's a virtuous circle of customer service.
More employee empowerment really is a great deal for employees, customers, and customer service managers - perhaps more firms should be exploring this idea?
Follow Alistair Niederer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/aniederer