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Police Policy or Empower- The Delta Impacts the Customer

Colin Taylor

It has been a few hours since a Delta Airlines employee changed policy at almost every US carrier. Now the change is a positive one, lifting restrictions on the number of bags that returning soldiers can bring for free. But the positive change wasn’t brought about by the positive steps the Delta agent took, but rather by the explosion of discussion about the agents refusal to accept a fourth bag unless it was paid for (Delta’s policy allows 3 bags free and the fourth and beyond must be paid for). Within hours of the story breaking almost every US airline had changed their policy to eliminate additional bag charges for returning soldiers.
This is a textbook example of an organization being ‘pennywise and pound foolish’ by sticking to a policy that not only does not serve the customer, but as the subsequent media storm illustrates does not serve the organization either.
The Fourth Bag was $200
The price for the 4th bag was $200. The fact that delta is the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet (Δ, δ), is coincidental. Does the airline not trust the agent with authority over $200? How foolish. Empowering the agent to serve the customer, (after all aren’t they the reason the company exists and the agent has the job?) should be job one.
Employees should be given the leeway to make adult decisions with their judgment. I know some readers just cringed in fear. “Oh my God, what could happen if we trusted the employees to make these types of decisions?” those who believe they must be in control say. In my experience however where employees are empowered to make decisions to serve customers while balancing the company’s business needs, employees make better decisions than previously existed. Studies have shown and my own experience has shown that Employees give away less money (fewer refunds, credits or returns) than previous policy did, but they also have higher Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) than existed before. The question begging to be asked then is “How can they get a higher CSAT while giving away less Money?” – We know that giving away money makes customers happy as does giving them what they ask for so how can the empowered employee do better with less?
Can we really Trust our Employees?
Well the answer is that they give away money etc. more appropriately than a blind and blanket policy ever can. The employee is able to make their decisions based upon context, common sense and their own experiences both as an employee serving customers and being a customer. No ‘black and white’ policy can ever achieve this. Employees treat money they are entrusted with as they treat their own money and they will share it prudently and only when and where it is needed.
Empowering employees can be a leap of faith for organizations that have never embraced it before. They fear that they will run amuck is frightening. But this is really a trust exercise…trusting your employees to act in the customers and the companies best interest.
Policy or empowerment the choice is yours, and the delta between them is great, but I suspect that at least one airline I know wishes they had considered this last week.

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