The Secret to Effective Real-Time Management

Real-time management is often viewed as a matter of responding to workload quantities. What's often missed in these discussions is how to respond to the nature of the workload. If it's heavy, there usually are underlying issues driving it. You can throw all the resources at it that you want, but if your organization isn't prepared to handle the content of the work, it's going to be a struggle for customers and employees.

The secret is empowerment. Effective real-time management depends on it. Many organizations want to do the right thing for customers, but too often put a multi-layered, time-eroding approval process in place to get there. By then, the customer is gone or the loyalty that could have arisen from the experience has dwindled. That's not effective empowerment; in fact, it's not empowerment at all. Your agents must be able to take action as circumstances unfold. You can't expect them to be effective unless they have the authority and means to make decisions.

For years, The Ritz-Carlton has given staff $2,000 of discretion, per employee and per guest, to resolve problems as the employee feels is appropriate. As a senior manager explains, "Sometimes the most delightful wow moments happen in the blink of an eye. If employees are not empowered and need to cross layers of approval, these moments could be lost forever." I have seen this in action. While staying at a Ritz-Carlton, I once had a lunch immediately comped when it was delivered later than promised.

Many executives, understandably, are initially concerned with empowering employees to the extent that The Ritz-Carlton does. But empowerment is actually cost-effective. Employees appreciate the trust and want to make decisions that are right for customers and the organization. And because it's happening on the spot, you are saving resources and aggravation by minimizing the need for managers to review and approve decisions.

The key is to have clear standards and guidance on how to make good decisions. Here are the kinds of questions each employee should be equipped to answer:

  • What's the right thing to do?
  • What would resolve the problem for this customer?
  • What decision best aligns with our values and mission?
  • If absolutely necessary, how and to whom do I escalate this issue?
  • How should I best capture information and learnings about this issue so that we are equipped as an organization to make improvements going forward?



How equipped are your agents for those situations when something is going wrong? When customers are clearly upset? Here are some time-tested tips:

  • If your organization messed up, acknowledge it in a sincere way and in plain language. How often as a customer do you see or hear the scripted words, "We regret any inconvenience this may have caused"? Nobody likes it, but itis still used so often. I prefer something along the lines of, "Thanks for letting us know that we let you down and for giving us a chance to make it right."
  • Some things shouldn't play out in a public forum, even if that's where they begin (e.g., through a social media post). Get the customer's OK to move the discussion elsewhere.
  • Take ownership and resolve the issue. If at all possible, fix it! What would it take to earn back the loyalty of this customer? If the customer is asking for the impossible, at least be prepared to give options.
  • How you frame things matters. When speaking with a customer whose flight was hampered by bad weather, there's a big difference between "I can't get you on a flight until tomorrow" and "I can get you out first thing in the morning. Would you like for me to grab one of those seats?"
  • Document what happened and the circumstances that drove it. Problems can and will continue to occur until a root cause is identified and resolved.

How your agents respond to tough situations, as much as anything else, shows the true character of your organization.

Brad Cleveland is a customer service consultant specializing in contact centers, support desks, and other customer-facing environments. One of the two original partners in the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), Brad acquired ICMI outright in 1996 and served as its president and CEO from 1996-2008. Today, Brad consults and speaks to a broad range of organizations and associations and serves as a senior advisor to ICMI. He is author/editor of eight books, including Call Center Management on Fast Forward. His current research is focused on the future of customer access management and the impact of social media; his blog can be followed at