You know the story about the kid who asked Mom for a treat and when she said "no" he went to Dad…because he knew Dad would most likely say "yes"? Oh. You were that kid? It's ok. I probably was, too. It's expected of kids. But is it expected of adults? Maybe, sometimes, it's our only option.

Whether it's expected or not, we (as customers) are taking advantage of the power given to certain employees to give us what we want through social media platforms. In the past year I've experienced two situations, one with Comcast and the other with LivingSocial, in which the customer service rep on the phone couldn't (wouldn't) turn a negative situation into a positive one  -- but the person on the other end of Twitter could, and did.

Sounds like a case of empowerment inconsistency to me. Why aren't all employees empowered to do what's right for a positive customer service experience?

I was fortunate to be part of a small group of people who launched New Seasons Market in early 2000. I could spend hours blogging up their praises, but I really want to focus on one small decision the founder and former CEO, Brian Rohter, made early on. He created the 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card. This card was given to every employee upon hiring. The card gave the employee permission to make a decision regarding any customer interaction that they felt would best benefit the customer and the company, regardless of what the situation was or even what their supervisor instructed them to do. What?! True story. Here are some examples:

  • Open a package of crackers so the customer could taste before they bought.
  • Walking three blocks down the street with a customer to help deliver their groceries to their home.
  • Sell a customer eight hot dogs out of a package of ten since hot dog buns come in an eight pack (yes!!).
  • Let a customer take their groceries home when they realized they left their wallet somewhere else…with the understanding they'll back and pay.

Who does this?! New Seasons Market does. And my question…why don't all grocery stores extend the same empowerment to their staff? We're not even talking about going above and beyond — we're talking about doing what's right. What do they have to lose? But more importantly, what do they have to gain?

Back to Comcast and LivingSocial. My experience with both companies centered around two situations that were not resolved through phone calls to their customer service personnel. You can probably imagine what happened next. I Tweeted and Tweeted. Of course I Tweeted! And although I really like to avoid negative energy in my Twitter stream, sometimes it's necessary to get things taken care of. Without going into detail I can tell you that BOTH situations were resolved because of me mentioning these companies on Twitter in dissatisfaction. In fact, Comcast responded within minutes and had someone to my house within hours…versus what I was told by their phone support staff which was that I'd have someone to my house within two days (and yes, I asked to speak to a manager). Two days just doesn't cut it for someone who relies on the Internet to run their business.

Why are the faces behind a brand's social media platforms given more power than the faces behind the telephone? Because as a disgruntled customer I have more of a negative impact on a company than the disgruntled customer who calls 1-800. People can hear my Twitter conversation and my experience could impact others' view of that company. I get it.

I love that companies, like Comcast, have empowered their staff (in this case the folks on Twitter) to do what's right to create a positive customer experience. But why, like New Seasons, haven't they empowered all of their staff…both off and online? I'm lucky in that I knew if I Tweeted my situation would, most likely, get resolved. But what about the non Tweeting customer who had to wait two days for Comcast to get their Internet up and running? Not being active on social media shouldn't be a punishment and impact your level of customer service support.

Clearly there is a disconnect in online and offline customer service policies which creates a disjointed brand. As a brand I want customers to rave about their experience with my company, not just how responsive my social media team is. Do you agree?

So why the disconnect? Why not empower all teams to just do what's right (within reason) to make a customer happy? Is it more expensive? Too time consuming? Weigh in.