“I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions.”

Stephen Covey

The most impactful examples of incredible customer service happen in the moment: A customer need is identified and satisfied immediately by an employee empowered to do so.

Most often, rules do not need to be broken. It is the circumstances that need to be changed. Thus, employees who have been trained to “do the right thing” and know they will be backed up by their employers are the secret sauce in the recipe for customer delight. Without it, the chances of changing a customer’s negative circumstance to a positive one—or a positive one to a remarkable one—Is always severely diminished.

Rules and procedures actually give employees real freedom to act in most circumstances. But when a situation arises that could not have been planned for, what do you want your employee to do? Follow the rules? Not deviate from mandatory procedures? Therein lies the road to customer service failure—or in certain cases, disaster.

The Chicago airport police officers who recently forcibly removed a paid and seated passenger who would not depart a plane voluntarily were empowered to do just that. But the consequences of the decision of their action caused significant damage to the reputation and brand of the police department, the airlines involved, and the other airline employees who were involved in the situation.

What else might those police officers have done? They could have changed the circumstances. They were called into a situation where they were confronted with an uncooperative customer, and the only thing they could think of to do was to drag the guy out of the plane. But they could have changed the circumstances by involving other people in the problem—if they had been trained and empowered to do so. This is the first weekly blog of “Imperatives for Delighting Customers,” and I am hoping that you have already dreamed of that different solution. I have.

What action by the police and/or the airline employees might have produced the following headline, instead of the ones that were actually generated by the event?  “Due to some fast thinking by the police officers involved, passenger on United Airline flight from Chicago to Louisville gives up her seat for a doctor who needed to get home to his patients. Other travelers on plane give her a standing ovation.”

Now, this was an extreme situation, but what about your business? Have you empowered your customer-facing employees to do whatever is needed to satisfy and delight the customer—without running to you to get permission. Remember, stories of employees giving incredible service can easily go viral on social media and provide priceless advertising of your brand. Or they can go the other way, as they did in this situation. Which would you rather have?