Are You Empowering Your Team?

Are You Empowering Your Team?

I recently had a challenge. I checked in my luggage in Lisbon, Portugal and travelled to Barcelona, London and onto Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The challenge was this: would my suitcase come with me? As you would expect, it did not arrive in Dubai until three days after I did. Since I was travelling in jeans and hiking boots I needed clothes for the next conference, which was right after I landed. I had no choice. I needed to go shopping and I had to buy these things. While it may sound like a fun venture, it was in fact a real challenge.

My first stop was the shoe shop. I selected a pair of shoes and asked if they had a size 10 (UK). The salesperson returned with a size 8 and presented them to me with a “We only have size 8”. I’m not sure what or how I was supposed to react in this situation. In fact, it took another three shoe shops before I could purchase a pair of shoes. My other challenge was a pair of trousers. I walked into the clothes shop and explained that I needed a pair of trousers immediately (I was the easy customer). I selected a pair that required altering to the correct trouser length. The salesperson’s comment was “can you come back in two days when we have adjusted the leg?” I re-emphasised my problem and said I would not be buying the trousers. The manager appeared and again I explained my problem. He suggested I went for a coffee and the trousers would be ready in an hour. This is not meant to be a moan or a complaint about the salespeople. All were pleasant and “doing their job”. My concern is the lack of empowerment.

Empowerment is the key.

We have all attended conferences where we have been advised that we should invest in the brand and build the brand. What is rarely emphasised is that the success of the brand also depends on the in-house empowerment policy. Every retailer should be able to trust the team members they employ. If they don’t trust them they should not continue to employ them. Trusted team members should be empowered. This is a management responsibility and don’t expect it to come from the team upwards.

Part of the role of retail management is to empower team members and to support them in their decision making process. In the first example, I can accept that the shop may not have had my size in the selected shoe. But, if the team member had been empowered to provide two alternative styles in my size, I may have purchased. In the clothes shop, it is beyond me as a customer why a manager can short circuit the system to satisfy the customers needs, but a salesperson cannot. Both the above situations damage the brand.

Have an Empowerment policy.

I believe it is critically important to have an empowerment policy in any retail business to ensure customer satisfaction is achieved. All team members should be able to make a business decision equivalent to the average sale per customer. The financial decision barrier should be raised as team members become more trusted and/or obtain higher positions in the business. The aim must be to build the business by ensuring everyone performs in a positive way.

The role of retail managers is to recruit potential team members with personality and train them in product knowledge. The result should be enough confidence so that management will support them when decisions have to be made. Failing to do so often results in a quicker turnover of staff as they seek out businesses who they feel do trust them.

The rules of Empowerment.

As a manager you must introduce rules of empowerment. These will vary depending on the situation but could include the following steps.


  • If we do not have what the customer has asked for, always offer an alternative. You may still satisfy the customer’s needs.
  • As a business you will support any decision to satisfy the customer, made by any team member in order to increase the value of the average sale per customer.
  • Always listen to the customer and anticipate what problems may occur. Solve these problems prior to them becoming an issue in the customer’s mind.
  • As the salesperson you own the relationship with the customer. You become their partner throughout the sales relationship. Once you start passing the customer on to other team members the relationship is broken and the retail brand often suffers as a result. The customer may not come back.Empowerment strategies apply to all retail relationships. Alas, too many retailers do not appreciate the importance of them in building advocates for their business. Your role is to ensure you have the best empowerment policy in your retail community.