Home > February 2018 > On Any Team: Discretion is Trust (Or Not)

On Any Team: Discretion is Trust (Or Not)

February 1st, 2018

A frequent frustration expressed by managers is that their staff, especially Golds, often won’t exercise discretion. Part of the reason is that discretion can have a very different meaning to staff and managers.

Discretion is actually trust. A manager trusts their staff to do what needs to be done. Often, the first place that manifests itself is in the area of customer service. But trust has to be a two-way relationship. Where things can go off the rails is when staff members don’t fully trust that they won’t be questioned or criticized after the fact. That applies to all Colors, but especially Golds, who often make lifetime decisions based on a single event. “I did that once and got crap for it, so I’m never going to do that again,” is a frequent mindset, but something they’ll almost never verbalize. It may have been two jobs and ten years ago, but the decision is made.

In a Canadian Business article, Richard Branson related a story that makes the point for all Colors. A Virgin Atlantic Upper Class customer was to receive limo transportation from his New York hotel to the airport. It turned out that the customer had been waiting at the wrong entrance to the hotel, causing him to run out of time, and needing to take a taxi. Now caught in New York rush hour, he barely made it to the airport, and was quite sure he’d missed his flight.

The first Virgin staff he saw immediately took ownership of the situation. She apologized and assured him that he would catch his flight scheduled to depart in ten minutes. She also reimbursed him the $70 cab charge out of her own pocket. It’s a no brainer to know that she turned a nightmare into a great win and built some huge loyalty with this customer.

Things didn’t go so well when she asked her supervisor to be reimbursed for the cab fare: No receipt, no money – even though it was obvious there wasn’t the time for the passenger to get a receipt, or her to deal with that detail. From an accounting perspective, the supervisor was right. From any other perspective, the decision was so wrong.

How likely would this staff member, anyone who overheard the conversation, or anyone she shared it with, be to do something – anything – so exemplary in the future? The happy ending was the airport manager stepped in and authorized the reimbursement, along with a long conversation with the supervisor to focus on catching staff “doing something right.” In every way, and every day, that applies to teams as well as leadership. But first you have to re-establish the trust and that starts with a safe conversation of why it doesn’t exist in the first place. Until then, you’ll be paying the price for something you know nothing about, and had nothing to do with.

Front-line customer service only works when the entire company supports their staff. As Branson describes it, this creates a chain reaction of teamwork, and the chain of customer service is only as strong as its weakest link.

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