Recently I was on a call with a customer where one of my Team Leads and the Support Agent did most of the talking. Part way through the call, the customer asked me why I wasn’t saying anything. My response was that both my Team Lead and Support Agent had a plan that made sense and could speak to that plan. On top of that they had the ability to make decisions and adjust the plan without running it by me. Finally, I had complete confidence and faith in their abilities. The fact that I was willing to put that much faith in my people and give them that much latitude was surprising to the customer. And it’s likely surprising to you as well. But I see making the people who report to me as independent as one of the keys to having a world class support organization. To that end, here’s what I do to encourage independence within the Tech Support organization at WinMagic.
- I Trust My Employees: Nothing encourages independence more than simply trusting your employees. I’ve hired them in the belief that they can do the job. Thus I have to let them do that job and trust in their abilities. That in turn will send a message to the employee in question that they are trusted and I believe in them. That self-belief will motivate them to do the best for any customer that they interact with.
- I Toss The Employee Into The Deep End: Nothing encourages independence more than being placed into an unfamiliar situation where they have to figure things out on their own. Thus I try to find situations where an employee is forced to push their perceived limitations to get a satisfactory outcome. That might be dealing with an escalated call, or troubleshooting a part of SecureDoc that they are afraid of. I do admit that there does have to be some degree of safety built around this, such as having a Team Lead in range should something go sideways. But as a rule I try to leave them alone to discover what their limits are.
- I Don’t Micro Manage: Related to item number two, if you micro manage an employee, they will feel that they have a safety net, which means that they will not gain any sense of independence. Thus I try to limit any sort of direction to the bare minimum for them to complete the task at hand as that encourages the employee to come up with their own solutions to a problem and they get used to operating without a safety net.
- I Tolerate Failure (To A Point): Sometimes failure can educate someone better than success. With that in mind, I will let employees fail as long as it doesn’t affect a customer. That I have to admit is a hard thing for me to do as my natural tendency is to jump in and course correct so that failure is avoided. But I find when I hold my tongue, let things unfold and then coach the employee as to how things could have gone differently, it ends up educating the employee in ways that stepping in would not have.
So, at this point you’re likely thinking that all of this is nice, but how does it help me when I call into WinMagic Technical Support? Well, my belief is that the more independent my people are, the more likely they are to do things like advocate on behalf of their customers, or take actions to mitigate a situation that may go bad in the future, or simply making a difficult decision to help a customer in real time rather than running to a manager for approval. It’s things like that which I believe will make interactions with us more customer centric as I have placed the power in the hands of those who need it most. Now this is a work in progress as each employee who works for me will progress down the path at independence at the own speed. But long term, I believe that at the end of the path, we will have employees in Technical Support that will be key contributors to our success.