Posted by: Chris | July 3, 2008

Services Marketing and the Empowered Employee

We’ve all had bad customer experience services. Last night, mine was at Lowe’s. Without going into the gory detail of the 50-minute experience that made the previously shunned Home Depot a viable shopping option for me and had me walking out Lowes’ sliding glass doors empty-handed, I’ll simply relate the experience to a significant aspect of services marketing: employee empowerment.

Employee empowerment sounds good. But it is risky, time-consuming, and costly. In my opinion, I believe that employee empowerment as a function of services marketing gets the shaft primarily because it is tough to quantify. It is an aspect of marketing whose direct tie is not to sales, but to that nebulous area of positioning (an area that falls into my “true marketing” designation).

For those who have the stomach for serious employee empowerment, a few principles (absent from yesterday evening’s experience) must be in place:

  1. Education- Empowered employees must be educated continuously and across the board (which can be a real challenge to strictly departmentalized businesses). It must be more than a token training video shown on one’s first day on the job. For the sake of keeping this post relatively short, I’ll blog more on employee education later.
  2. Systems support- A company’s infrastructure must be created/purchased with employee nimbleness in mind. To bring this down to a more tangible level, when an employee checks on a customer’s order on the computer, it’s generally not a good thing for the order-checking system to be so slow that said employee is actually able to get on the phone and call for the question’s answer more quickly than the computer system in place is able to obtain it. (Incidentally, I used to work at Lowe’s and I know that this system is not Internet-based–no “web server” excuses there.)
  3. Accountability- Don’t we often associate the word “accountability” with punishment? While indeed, the unmotivated manager I spoke with last night should definitely have been punished, accountability in general is perhaps most effective when it is proactive rather than simply punitive; when “higher-ups” are a positive, contributing aspect of the employee’s accountability network. Communicate with direct reports every day before a screw up occurs. Again, I could drone on for “pages” on the issue, so I’ll quit here.

You may have noticed two other essential principles of employee empowerment pop up in this list: motivation and communication. Again, maybe for another post.

I will be the first to admit that these principles are often touted and rarely implemented in a concrete manner, to the point that they are simply cliche. I’d like to hear the specific ways your businesses empower employees through education, systems support, and accountability. Or, if you want to expound on the communication or the motivation side, that would be great too. Or maybe you feel I’ve missed something. I’ll admit, looking back through this post, I see I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I’d be happy to hear your comments on the issue.

Of note: poor employee empowerment has now ended my multi-year moratorium imposed upon Home Depot, and has motivated me to blog again after a two-month hiatus. The bottom line of this most recent Lowe’s purchase (the point of contention referenced in this post): $5,500.

I should also mention that this morning’s empoweredness of “Sarah” a the 71st Street Lowe’s in Tulsa single-handedly kept us from canceling the order with Lowe’s altogether (which would surely have been followed by a similar purchase at Home Depot).

Happy Fourth of July!



  1. I would suggest shopping at small mom and pop hardware stores. Lowes and Home Depot are both part of the corporate whore culture that is destorying the economic and moral fabric of this country.

  2. Keeping a uniformly great customer experience must be the hardest thing a big company can maintain. But, one company I would personally point out (and I have done so on my blog is Lowes. I have received incredibly personal and helpful advice from personnel. I left part of my order at the service desk and a Lowes employee ran all the way to the parking lot and found my car to return it to me. I have had store personnel help calculate materials needed. This is at two different Lowes stores in different parts of Cincinnati. I had it figured they really nailed the customer experience thing so your story was surprising to me. Maybe they had a bad hair day. I stil like the store.

  3. John, I agree, large corporations have a unique challenge when it comes to branded service and employee empowerment. This is an issue I hope to be able to address more in the future.
    Dale, I’m glad to hear of your experience with Lowe’s-good to know that this is not an epidemic within such a large and powerful company. Unfortunately, in the few days since I posted, Lowe’s called us and told us that they had written down one of our installments (wood flooring) incorrectly, and didn’t write the other one (carpeting) down at all, and they then delayed the entire project for another week without any compensating offer. I think it’s just the Tulsa Lowe’s. Perhaps the associates you deal with in Cincinnati could give us a call down here in Oklahoma! But seriously, it does raise a good point that consistency across the board is yet another essential aspect of employee empowerment.
    Thanks to both of you for your comments!

  4. […] want a new hire to make money, be it a cashier, a bagger, a janitor, or a CEO, he or she must be empowered to do so through orientation, education, assessment and review, remediation, and […]

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