Empower your staff: a case study

I work at Automattic / WordPress.com, where I used to be an Happiness Engineer, a member of the support team if you prefer (but I do prefer Happiness Engineer). Even though that is not my role anymore, my current team is also heavily involved with supporting our users, and questions about how to help our users better are constantly in my mind.
Today, as the customer of a totally different company, I suddenly realized in a painful way how some things that we take for granted, like trusting and empowering employees, are keys to a successful user experience.
Since I moved to Vienna, roughly 20 months ago, I decided to not own a car anymore. Vienna is a big city, with an excellent public transportation system, easy to bike around 7 months/year and to walk the rest of the time. Cherry on the cake, for these occasions where you really want a car (yes, sometime it rains) we have the Car2go service, offering you the option of taking any of their 700 Smart cars at any time, drive where you need, then park them, and be billed by the minute.
I have been a user of the service for the past 20 months, I don’t have a clue wether I am a good, average, or small customer, but what is certain is that I am a regular user, averaging about 100€ / months of rentals.
Yesterday I discovered while trying to rent a car that my account was locked. Once back home, I checked my account online, my emails, and finally found the reason: somehow an amount of 3.72€ has not been charged on my bank account on March 10. Oddly enough, charges before and after March 10, 2014 have been charged successfully, for a total of 74€ that month.
Intrigued, I called their customer service, where a very nice support representative confirmed that this failed charge was the source of the problem, but that his system didn’t give him any specific reason for the failure.
A very nice, but frustrating conversation ensued, him explaining me that he was terribly sorry, but an automated system was at the origin of my trouble, I, replying that I certainly hoped it was an automated system and not a conscious decision by a human being, that I understood perfectly that errors can happen, that I was more than happy to pay the 3.72€ by any mean of his choice, but that I needed my account unlocked immediately as I needed to rent a car.
Where the conversation took the really frustrating turn though, was when he explained that he was willing to send an email to the Car2go shop in Vienna, as only they have the ability to unlock the account, but couldn’t promise anything and that the only way to be sure my account would be unlocked immediately was for me to go at the shop in person and settle the open invoice there.
As I write this, I don’t know if his email will be successful or not, I certainly won’t travel across the city to settle such a small amount, after all they do have the ability of charging my account digitally, and this is not 1914.
So here we are, with two people frustrated, as I could feel in his voice he was even more so than me, a potential loss of time for me this afternoon, the potential loss of a client for them, and all that why?
Because Car2go doesn’t trust their support staff enough to give them the power to make decisions and act upon them.
If you want to make your users and customers happy, don’t make the same mistake, give your support representatives the tools to unlock any situation, the power to decide on their own how to handle issues, then trust them to make the right choices.
Your users will be happier, your staff will be happier, and that is a virtuous circle that will benefit your company much more than the few bucks spared here and there by limiting their actions.

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