All organisations must in consultation with all their staff develop, validate, and implement customer-centric values that energise their employees and give them a vibrant reason to go to work everyday to strive to service champions. Customer-centric values serve as a basic benchmark for service behaviour manifestations and measurement for all progressive service-oriented organizations.

There is a debate however regarding whether or not employees of service organizations should be closely controlled, or should be empowered to act in the best way they see fit. Empowerment may be crucial for turning service failures into effective recovery and for closely tailoring a service to individual customers’ needs. The degree of empowerment given to employees or the control exercised over them depends on the format of the service delivery system.

For low-contact, standardised services, employees can be controlled by mechanistic means such as rules and regulations. For high-contact, highly divergent services, high levels of empowerment may be more appropriate. It is important to note however that irrespective of whether services are high-contact or low-contact however, codes of service conduct are still important for determining desirable service behaviours.

Employee Empowerment

Empowerment is essentially a state of mind. Employees with an empowered state of mind should experience feelings of: control over how their job is performed, awareness of the context in which the job is performed, accountability for their work output, shared responsibility for unit and organisational performance and equity in rewards based on individual and collective performance. Empowerment essentially involves giving employees discretion over the way they carry out their tasks.

Employee discretion could be seen as routine discretion or creative discretion. Routine discretion occurs where employees are allowed to select an alternative from a prescribed list of possible actions in order to do their job (e.g. a service engineer having a choice of three sub-systems to install in order to rectify a specified problem). Creative discretion is exercised where employees are required to develop alternative methods of performing a task (e.g., an interior design consultant may have complete freedom to choose his/her own designs).

The reason for empowering employees can be divided into the mutually supportive dimensions of those that improve the motivation and productivity of employees and those that improve service delivery for customers. On the motivational side, empowerment of frontline-line service employees can lead to both attitudinal and behavioural changes in employees. Attitudinal changes resulting from empowerment include increased job satisfaction and reduced role stress. A consequence of increased job satisfaction is greater enthusiasm for their job, which can be reflected in better interaction with customers.

One of the consequences of empowerment is that it increases the scope of employees’ jobs, requiring employees to be properly trained to cope with the wider range of tasks that they are to undertake. It also impacts on recruitment because it is necessary to ensure that employees recruited have the requisite attitudinal characteristics and skills to cope with empowerment. Some authors found that, while empowered employees gained confidence in their abilities, they also experienced increased frustration and ambiguity through role conflict. Additionally, since empowered workers are expected to have a broader range of skills and to perform a greater number of tasks, they are likely to be more expensive to employ because of their ability to command higher rates of pay.

The proponents of empowerment argue that empowerment is easily facilitated when employees’ values are aligned with those of the service organization. Service organisations must, sometimes, be prepared to allow employees the freedom to act and to make decisions based on their own judgment. If a service employee is empowered, that employee must be able to decide how best to deal with the needs of customers and should be accountable and responsible for dealing with problems of customer complaints and operational challenges faced in the resolution of same. Empowered employees need to be rewarded in a timely fashion and their initiatives, triumphs and achievements acknowledged. Empowerment also implies a culture that encourages employees to experiment with new ideas and can tolerate them making mistakes and learning from them.

Behaviourally, empowerment can lead to quicker responses by employees to the needs of customer, as less time is wasted in referring customers’ requests to line managers. In situations where customers’ needs are highly variable, empowerment can be crucial in allowing employees to customize service delivery. If service failures are not rectified quickly and satisfactorily, customers may lose trust and confidence in a service provider. Advocates of tighter control mechanisms argue on the basis of the perceived disadvantages of empowerment.

Far from improving the efficiency of the service delivery process, empowerment can sometimes lead to inefficiencies. An employee who is empowered to customize each service to individuals’ specific requirements will be less efficient than one who is strictly controlled as to how much customization is to be carried out. Of course, if the service blueprint is based on a no-frills, then low-cost proposition, excessive empowerment and customization by employees may not be viable for a company. The company could, in the short term, cause delays to waiting customers who seek a standard service and, in the long term, find itself delivering excessive value to customers.

Some customers could also perceive customization of service as unfair in situations where employees are observed to be favouring some customers rather than others. Studies have shown that employees may consciously or unconsciously discriminate to give better service to friends or people who are similar to themselves in terms of age, gender or ethnicity. These kinds of service biases might negate any benefits of empowerment if they are repeatedly exhibited.

Finally, empowering employees can cost money in the short term, which has to be balanced against possible revenue gains in the long term. Faced with a service failure, an empowered employee may over-compensate customers, not only incurring immediate costs for the company, but also raising expectations for compensation next time that a service failure occurs.

Control Systems

Even with highly empowered employees, some residual forms of control are necessary. Control systems are closely related to reward systems in that pay can be used to control performance. Poor service performance that violates the service charter of service organizations should attract verbal warnings in the first instance. This may be followed by a query or warning and if the shortcomings persist, management may resort to dismissal. In an ideal service organization that has a well-developed human resources management policy, employees’ involvement in their work should lead to considerable self-control or informal control from their peer group. Where such policies are less well-developed, three principal types of control are used; namely simple controls, technical controls; and bureaucratic control.

Simple controls are typified by direct personal supervision of personnel - for example, a head waiter can maintain a constant watch over junior waiters and directly influence performance when one deviates from standard laid-down service delivery procedures. Technical controls can be built into the service production process in order to monitor individuals’ performance. For example, a supermarket check-out can measure the speed of individual operators and control action (e.g. training or re-deployment) taken in respect of those shown to be falling below standard.

Bureaucratic controls require employees to document their performance, for example, the completion of work sheets by a service engineer of visits made and jobs completed. Control action can be initiated in respect of employees who appear to be under-performing.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.