Shep Hyken\'s Customer Service Blog

Guest Blog: How to Coach Your Staff to Problem Solve on Their Own

This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post, Kelly Gregorio talks about how important it is to train your employees.  I like her belief that if your employees cannot problem solve on their own, then it is impossible for them to serve your customers well. – Shep Hyken

As the leader of your team, chances are you hold customer service to the highest ideal; and why not?  Exceptional customer service is in direct correlation to positive brand recognition, great word of mouth and loyalty among customers.

However, regardless of how well you serve customers, training employees to provide exceptional customer service is an investment that really counts.  After all, hourly employees are the people that interact with your customers on a daily, face-to-face basis. Unfortunately the need to polish certain skills (in this case, problem solving) is commonly overlooked.

If your employees cannot problem solve on their own, then it is impossible for them to serve your customers well.  Just imagine the frustration customers get every time your staff has to pause and call on you for direction and authority.  Just imagine the distaste a customer feels when the employee they are dealing with can’t fix their issues, and instead directs them to go up the painstakingly long chain of command.

You want to present your employees as brand ambassadors; and brand ambassadors have the ability to problem solve, make decisions and change the customer experience for the better. Despite your best intentions, you may be employing a staff that can’t empower themselves enough to function without you.  Here’s how to show them the light…

Emphasize the Need to Relax          

One of the reasons your staff may be hesitant to make their own moves is that they are unsure of the repercussions.  This may take some effort on your part to evaluate your responses to their failures and tailor negativity (yelling, anger, frustration, etc.).  If you want your staff to make their own moves, you will have to instill a confidence within them knowing that they can come to you and comfortably own-up to any mistakes.

Once they know where they stand with you, it will be worthwhile to teach them how to deal with themselves.  Chances are your staff is reaching out to you because when issues arise they become stressed, worried and anxious.  Emphasize the importance of gaining composure with an activity like taking a minute to him/herself and practicing some deep, slow breathing.  Once they have their emotions in check, the problem-solving process can begin.

Adopt an Ownership Attitude

There is one idea that you should reiterate to your staff if you want them to problem solve independently: pretend I don’t exist.  If your staff owned your company, they would certainly work in the best interest of the business.  Encourage them to think this way when you are both off and on-site, a better, more attentive customer experience will result.

Lead a conversation with your staff that refreshes and reminds them how to effectively problem solve.

  • Step One: Assess the issue and brainstorm possible solutions while quickly weighing the possible positive and negative outcomes of each.
  • Step Two: Carry out the best possible solution with the interest of the business and its customers in mind.
  • Step Three: Follow-up and evaluate the results.  This step is especially important; staff members need to ensure that the customer is happy and any problems have been alleviated before they walk out your doors.

Coach Them to Spot Solutions        

Just because your staff is problem solving on their own, does not mean you should disappear from the equation.  For example, your input in Step Three could be a great service to your team.  By evaluating the results together, you can determine what does and does not work while creating a proactive game plan for next time.

Additionally, your imagination can serve your employees too.  When working together create fictitious problems and talk the three step process out together.  The more what-if activities you can do with your staff, the more comfortable and confident they will become with the process.

Send Them Off With an Ego Boost

Once you’ve pointed out the need for change and provided your team with the necessary tools, send them off with an ego boost.  Emphasize that the reason you’ve taken the time to teach them this is because you see their potential as an independent worker.  Also, be sure to pass on any praise that customers express as a way to reinforce effective problem solving and how it results in great customer service.

Especially during adjustment periods, team members can turn your encouragement into a forward, positive push.  With the right tactics in place you can strengthen your staff’s ability to problem solve, and get back to the real purpose of your job: managing their work (not doing it for them).

What other problem solving skills should managers teach their team?

About the author: Kelly Gregorio writes about leadership trends and tips while working at Advantage Capital Funds, a provider of merchant cash advances. You can read her daily business blog here.

  1. What a great article. I particularly like the section ‘Adopt an Ownership Attitude’.

    That is everything I want my staff to do. Encouraging them to make decisions in the interest of the business is certainly a goal to achieve – as obviously that helps their own pay packet as well if they perform well.

    Getting this type of information in a procedure manual makes a difference as well.

    Keep writing such good material.

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