May 7, 2009
Last night, my family and I visited one of those ice cream parlors that use a heated stone to meld together savory concoctions of an array of sweets and premium ice cream. Because each order is usually custom-made, it takes a bit longer to fulfill orders here than in typical ice cream shops where you order a flavor, a size, and you’re done.
When my family of six entered the store there was only one customer ahead of us. So far, so good. As my kids were deciding on the combination of treats they were planning to add to their ice cream, I noticed another three groups of customers come in behind us. I thought to myself, “Good timing.”
About this time, I realized that the young man working behind the counter was alone. There was no one in back to support the half-dozen or so customers who had lined up behind us. Others noticed too. I was reading the body language of customers who were rolling their eyes, sighing, looking at their watches, and craning their necks over the counter to see if another employee was hiding out in the back room. After several minutes with no forward progress, not surprisingly, the couple at the end of the line walked out.
You might be thinking that this is going to be a blog post about the importance of proper staffing and you’d be half-right. Staffing levels are important. It doesn’t make sense to try and shave labor hours at the expense of customer satisfaction and sales. But staffing is only part of this dilemma. The other aspects are employee attitude and the processes that are in place to mitigate the negative effects of being “in the weeds.”
Our server, Amir, displayed a great attitude. He took a moment to make eye contact with other customers in the line, smiled, and nodded as if to say, “I recognize that you are awaiting service and look forward to serving you.” Instead of appearing rushed and anxious, he smiled comfortably, offered samples to our kids, and served us as if no line had formed. I appreciated that and told him so.
Now, here’s where the processes that lessen the negative effects of being “in the weeds” come in. Having ordered three specials (which included a free kid-sized ice cream bowl for each medium-sized bowl purchased at the regular price), Amir told me that he needed to process three separate transactions. I told him that I was paying with a credit card and it might speed things up to put them all on the same transaction.
He was stuck. Despite sound judgment (and better customer service), he deferred to policy saying, “I know it would be faster but it’s store policy to ring up specials separately.” He was using one of those tiny dial-up machines so the delay (and customer angst) was compounded. So, as customers continued to wait—rolling their eyes, and looking at their watches—he ran my credit card three separate times, and issued three separate charge slips for me to total and authorize three separate times.
It was another example to me of subordinating customer service to protocol and policy. And the customers waited…
So, what’s a service business to do? Last summer, I wrote an article that contains several customer-focused actions that employees can take to get through the inevitable periods of high customer volume that most successful service businesses frequently experience.
Check it out and make sure your staff is prepared to take care of customers during periods of high volume. Also, review any policies that are in place that may not make sense for the customer even if they help you with your internal functions.
After all, customers are the reason that your business has internal functions—not the other way around.