A Waiting Game

queueBusy periods should be great for business. But don’t let the bonus of being busy backfire. With half term next week and the glorious weather of late you may be expecting a busy week ahead, particularly if you’re a visitor attraction or leisure business. And quite possibly some of your customers will be visiting you for the first time. So naturally you’ll want to give them a great first impression. And keep your regulars happy, too. So how can you ensure that even when you’re busy your customers get the same warm welcome and attention they do on every other day of the year. When we’re busy one of the criticisms from customers can be queuing. Let’s face it; none of us like to be kept waiting. We always think of the 101 things we could be doing instead. Here are 10 things to think about so your team can be prepared and your customers get the warm welcome they’re expecting …even if waiting.

1. Prevention is better than cure

Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. Whether it’s waiting in a queue, being put on hold, waiting for a slow internet connection or waiting for your order to arrive, any of these situations can try our patience. Estimate your busy times. If you know when your peak times are in the first instance warn customers of these times, with alternatives when they can avoid the rush - and potentially even out the pressure for you. I know this sounds obvious, but adjust your staffing accordingly. This isn’t just a case of more staff when busy; it means more staff who are competent and confident to take on the extra workload, so ensure appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’. If you have self-service areas, or payment machines, help speed up the process by helping customers; you can avoid the time it takes them to read instructions, which might reduce your transaction time by half, thus reducing queues. Can you divert people from queues to other options to achieve the same result? E.g.  to other tills, entrances or places with shorter queues. Give your team licence to cut red tape and open up alternative channels where you can.

2. Make use of waiting time to save time elsewhere

If people do have to wait, make this as painless as possible. Can customers be doing other things whilst queuing or waiting to be served which will save time once they get served -  such as reading information that speeds up their buying decision, e.g. reading what’s on offer, finding out about specials, understanding what’s included in each price option?  Or learning of anything that isn’t available so they can be thinking of alternatives (and not have their hopes dashed when you tell them they can’t have their No 1 choice). Can they be getting tickets or vouchers ready, filling out forms or processing payment. Can you take cash payments from people in the queue to speed things up? Can customers be doing something that saves them time once served, e.g. reading menus or site maps to plan their visit?

3 A team effort

Even if you don’t have enough space, equipment or outlets to serve more customers at any one time, you can at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, printing out bills or acting as ‘runners’ for those dealing with customers. Have empathy for the waiting customers; the waiting may not be your fault, but take some responsibility for action, not blame others for their wait.  If you rely on business partners or outsourced services, your customers don’t care if it’s down to them; as far as they are concerned you all represent your business.

4. Alleviate the pain

Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to distract from the wait or maybe even compensate for their wait. Ask them to take a seat, or stand in the warm… Maybe a little something to compensate for the wait may be appropriate: a drink, map, kids’ colouring in sheet or sticker, as appropriate for your business. Just a small token gift, just to say we appreciate your patience. (And if you’re now subconsciously thinking you couldn’t afford to do this every time someone has to wait; maybe it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. Compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether!) If people have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, at the very least acknowledge this and thank them for their patience.

5. Give alternatives

If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they opt for something that doesn’t involve waiting? That might of course depend on just how long they have to wait. When we’re put on hold, if told we are 2nd in the queue we are far more likely to hang on than if we’re told we are 10th. So let you customers know - is it expected to be a 2 minutes wait or half an hour? Disney have mastered this; you always know how long you’ll be waiting in line, so you aren’t agitated whilst you wait. Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows the customer to make an informed decision. If you need to put someone on hold, ask them first if this is OK; don’t just assume they’re happy to hang on. If you’ve a backlog of orders and they’ll have to wait 10 minutes for their Panini tell them so (and of course make sure it does only take 10 minutes or less!). At the very least give notice if you can’t deliver your promise. Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…

6. Streamline your operation

Review all the touch points on the customers’ journey – where can time be saved; waiting for web pages or images to load, phones being answered more quickly, keeping on top of orders so purchases can be dispatched/served quickly. Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, duplicate processes, or re-queue for secondary transactions or information. This not only wastes their valuable time, but takes more effort on their part, (and potentially disrupts other queuing customers). Just because this is how it’s always been done, isn’t a good enough reason to do it that way! Do you give customers accurate information so they can get to speak to the right person first time around? Do you have some generic phone number that takes customers through 5 (or even more) options before they can even get to speak to a human being? Give them a direct number next time so as a valued customer they can jump the ‘queue’ to go directly to the right person. If you’re not sure if there is any doubling up – ask your customers… And ask your team; I bet they know where things could be streamlined.

7. Save your customers time and effort

In the same way that anything that wastes time for your customers can be an irritation, anything that saves your customer time will add value. Why not have an express service, line, process, phone number, etc. for your existing loyal customers. Make them feel special and valued. Even for new customers who are time poor, introduce a quick option that saves time – at a premium price if you need to – you may be surprised how many take you up on that. A minute here, and a minute there may not seem much individually, but add them all together and you might save your customers considerably time.

8. Keep a balance

However, remember you don’t want customers to feel rushed, so apply time savings sensibly and appropriately. Never compromise quality for speed or let your team use it as an excuse to cut corners or make mistakes. It’s a fine balance. Test, review and ask your team for their ideas, then tweak accordingly.

9. Last impressions

You’re only as good as your last encounter with the customer. What’s the very last thing your customers see, hear, smell, taste or feel as they leave? Say thank you. A simple verbal thank you and acknowledgement as they leave, even if it’s just a smile and a nod of the head or wave is always appreciated by customers; it’s one of the simplest ways to make them feel appreciated. Whatever happens in the last few moments of their visit will undoubtedly influence their lasting impression. What’s the one thing they remember when they get home, or next time they’re thinking of visiting you…?

10. Engage and enthuse your team for the busy time ahead

A happy team equals happy customers. Give your team all the information, support, resources and training they need. Tap into people’s strengths and give experienced team members specific responsibilities to oversee key points on the customer journey. Empower everyone to make decisions to do what’s in the customer’s best interest. Having to seek approval or authorisation at the best of times is annoying for the customer and demeaning for team members, but it becomes even more irritating when you’re busy. Be the prefect role model. Stay enthusiastic and energised; staff and customers will soon pick it up if you’re not. We talked about acknowledging customers, but at the end of the busy period it’s so important to acknowledge your team; thank you for their hard work over any busy periods. It doesn’t have to be lavish; a simple thank you for all their hard work goes a long way. So make the most of your busy periods and don’t let the bonus of being busy backfire.

Learn to Let Go

Balloons letting go I caught myself this week doing something I really should have delegated to someone else. Not only was this tying up my valuable time when I could be doing something only I can do; the person who should have done it would have done a better job, and quite possibly in half the time! Do you ever find yourself falling into this trap? I’m not just referring to doing routine administrative or mundane tasks. There’s many a time that the things we do to respond to customers’ needs and expectations could also be done just as well (or even better) by others. When we have an excellent relationship with customers it can be difficult to let go. We often feel guilty or obliged to that customer to look after them ourselves; to give them a personal service. And we’re potentially worried they won’t feel as valued if we delegate some aspects of the customer relationship to our team. But in doing so we could actually be diluting our efforts and giving a poorer customer experience. What happens when we’re on holiday, tied up with other projects, or when two or more customers all need us at the same time? We can’t do everything! We need to put our trust in others and delegate some of that responsibility. But what if we’re not confident anyone in the team is up to it? I’m not talking here about abdication. You if you were teaching your child to swim you wouldn’t just dump them in at the deep end and let them get on with it. You’d show them, coach them, support them until they were ready to go it alone. And even then you’d be watching at the poolside until you could see they were safe. Ah, but… I hear some say.
  • “My customer trusts me and expects to deal with me” They expect to always deal with you because that’s what you’ve always given them. If they are never given the chance to speak to your team that will never change. Set expectations early on with your customers so they know who is the best person to speak to when. Introduce your customers to your team so they know who they’re dealing with and build trust (and their expectations) early on. .
  • “It takes too much time to explain, I can do it quicker” In the short-term yes, but in the longer term if you delegate you are saving time to attend to more important things to add value for your customer. Having simple systems in place for routine queries means you might only have to invest the time once.
  • “They aren’t yet capable” And never will be unless you start incorporating delegation and trust into your people development plans.
  • “They won’t do it as well as me” Maybe, but are you being too much of a perfectionist? Does the task need such a degree of excellence?  If not, maybe someone can deal with the task adequately in less time so the customer isn’t kept waiting. 
  • “They aren’t yet qualified, authorised or licenced to do that” Everyone has to start somewhere so get them involved and leave time for you to approve or endorse their efforts before it gets sign off or the rubber stamp. (None of us would ever pass our driving test if we weren’t able to actually get out on the road and drive; it just needs plenty of practice and handholding along the way until ready.)
  • “If they are left to deal with someone else my customer won’t be happy and I’ll lose their respect” You’ll upset customers far more and lose more respect by delaying your response and by not devoting enough time to the areas of expertise they’re paying you for because you are too distracted by routine and administrative issues.
So in regard to having an obligation to that customer to look after them and give them a personal service - yes you should. But you won’t be able to if you get sucked into tasks that don’t require your level of expertise or experience. The skill is knowing when to let go of the day to day issues, and put your trust in someone else to get on with things, leaving you to focus on the more important aspects of your relationship that only you can do and on the more strategic aspects of the businesses.

But, I do that already!

One of my clients was telling me last week of her frustration when her team were reluctant to get involved in training.  “They think they know it all already” she said. Have you ever experienced that too? I know I have. A big barrier to training, particularly customer service training or management skills, is when an employee thinks they know it all or are already doing everything correctly already. So they see the training as a criticism. This means they are not receptive, which is not only frustrating for you, but means in all likelihood your training is a waste of time, money and effort. Here are some ideas to get over this... .

I’ll have to get my manager

When you’re a customer and want to make a complaint the last thing you want to hear is “I’ll have to go and get my manager…” Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming of the manager. This week I've been training line managers, giving them the skills and confidence to coach their own teams in how to handle customer complaints, so they can trust their team to handle them effectively. This means customers get any complaints handled swiftly, team members feel empowered, and managers are freed up to get on with other things. You can watch here to discover the 4 key areas we covered. So what’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do your team have the skills and confidence to deal with complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them?  

Who handles your customer complaints?

Coaching in Complaint Handling

When you’re a customer and want to make a complaint the last thing you want to hear is “I’ll have to go and get my manager…” Not only is it frustrating for you as the customer, it’s demeaning for the employee and time consuming of the manager. So what’s the process in your business when a customer has a complaint? Do your team have the skills and confidence to deal with complaints, and do their line managers have the skills and confidence to train, coach, and support them?

10 ways to show your team some love

love hearts laura-ockelIf you’re like me you’ve probably already had half a dozen email declarations of love today from suppliers and those touting for your business. It happens every Valentine’s day, doesn’t it? I wonder if these businesses put the same amount of time and attention into declaring their love for their team. Unless your team feel valued and loved they're not likely to share much love for your customers either. But if you take care of and show some love for your team they’re far more likely to care for and show love to your customers. A loved team is an engaged team. So here are 10 ideas you can use to show your team some love so they in turn show your customers some love and give an all-round great customer experience. Not just for today, but any day.

1. Know what’s important

Understand each of your team members and what’s important to them. Recognise there are things which may seem insignificant to you, but can mean a lot for others. What are the things they enjoy? What are the things they’re proud of, be that in or out of work. Express an interest in what they do away from work. Never under estimate the value sitting down in private with each of your team on a one-to-one basis. Schedule these in advance and stick to your schedule; nothing smacks more of I’m not valued than constantly cancelling these meetings.

2. Common courtesies

Treat your team with the same care, courtesy and respect as you’d like them to show your customers. Keep your commitments; letting people down suggests a lack of respect, but if you can’t do what you say you’ll do at the very least say “I’m sorry”. Give a simple please and thank you, a sunny smile and a cheerful “good morning”, and a “good night and have a good evening” at the end of their day or shift.

3. Pay attention

Listen to your team’s feedback, ideas and suggestions. Show them you value their opinion: ask for their advice or suggestions on matters that affect them or where they may be able to present a different perspective. Be approachable, and listen and observe so you can act on any staff concerns before they become a problem. Provide support and be receptive to when this might be needed.

4. Keep your team informed

A well-informed team not only gives them confidence and enables them to make decisions, it also helps establish trust with your customers. Let everyone know what’s going on in your business through regular staff briefings, and use these to get feedback from your team on any customers’ comments, or discuss any questions or suggestions that arise about operational issues. Keep your team up to date with the bigger picture: what’s happening in your business, in your industry, and with your competitors.

5. Invest in your team’s development

Provide development opportunities to tap into their strengths and keep them stretched. Not everyone wants to progress but it doesn’t mean to say they don’t want to be stretched given opportunities for new challenges. A bored employee is unlikely to wow your customers. Give everyone an opportunity to learn something new; it’s a win-win as the business will benefit too. Add variety, set them a challenge and trust your team to make decisions to do what’s best.

6. Promote teamwork

Upskill and cross train your team to cover other’s responsibilities so everyone is confident the job still gets covered even when they’re sick, on holiday or have an extra heavy workload. This also promotes a greater appreciation at each other’s roles as well as making it easier to create a culture where everyone takes responsibility when necessary rather than passing the buck. It doesn’t have to be all about work. It’s difficult to please everyone but if you can find something that appeals to everyone’s tastes, personal commitments and budget, social activities is a great way to bring the team together. Even if this is simply some after hours team activities in the workplace that taps into the interest, talents or expertise of your team.

7. Guide and support

Give your team the support, resources and guidance needed to do a good job. This starts with providing clear direction on your expectations and providing everyone with the resources they need (including sufficient time and manpower). Observe your team in action and give supportive feedback, encouragement and coaching, so you build their confidence and their productivity. Every business has its times when things go wrong, so equip your team to deal with the unexpected and empower them to handle these situations with confidence.

8. Two-way trust

Lead by example and be a role model so there are no mixed messages. Ensure or your management team used the same criteria for awarding and recognising the team’s contribution, so people don’t get confused of feel deflated when something worthy of recognition gets ignored. Play to people’s strengths and demonstrate your trust by delegating some control and ownership. This gives a sense of pride and a desire to get things right.

9. Recognise and reward success

Recognise those who go beyond the call of duty. Give public recognition when you receive positive feedback from a customer. Share your good news to give everyone a boost and recognise those who have contributed. Make any rewards meaningful; not everyone is motivated by the same things to consider what’s important to the individual. Have some fun. You might be dealing with serious subjects but people are more productive when they’re happy and relaxed. Laughter is the best medicine and a good hearty laugh release tension and it’s contagious!

10. A simple thank you

The most obvious and easiest thing you can do to show your team you care about them is to make a point of thanking them. Whether that’s a heartfelt thank you at the end of a busy shift or hectic day, when they’ve made an extra effort or used their initiative, or gone out of their way to help a colleague or a customer. Send a handwritten letter or a thank you card when they’ve gone the extra mile; a physical letter or card will have 10 times more impact than an email. These ideas can go a long way towards creating staff loyalty which in turn will contribute to customer loyalty.

You’re only as good as your weakest link

You are only as good as your weakest link. That means if you have just one person failing to deliver good customer service or giving a poor customer experience this will impact your customers perception of your business as a whole. And that person might not even be one of your own team. Any one of your suppliers or third party providers who can impact your customer experience could be leaving your customers wanting to go elsewhere.   So who are the weak links in your business?

No time for customers?

One of the biggest barriers I come across when I'm helping business owners with their customer experience or delivering customer service training is when people believe they don't have enough time to devote to customers and delivering a memorable customer experience. In this short video I give some suggestions to help get over this.

Creating Service Superstars

I’m super excited to announce my book ‘Creating Service Superstars’ is now published.

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It is a manager’s guide to building your team’s confidence, initiative and commitment to creating a memorable customer experience. I’ve kept it nice and short (69 pages) so it’s an easy read and hopefully doesn’t become one of those tomes gathering dust on the book shelf and never gets read.

This is some of the feedback I’ve had to date…

“I love love love your book.  I can hear you in the pages.  Much of what we discussed is echoed here in your book.  This tells me that you have a command of your craft and are a true subject matter expert. 

“I find the book extremely easy to read and easy to follow.  I love how your examples cover various industries. I find the “Actions” section at the end of the chapters very helpful.

“I consider you an authority on the topic and am so humbled you asking me to read your book pre-release."

“Caroline’s new book is a treasure trove of ideas for any customer service team member – and any manager or leader involved in this critical area of the business. In fact – it should be mandatory reading for anyone who touches a customer – regardless of their job title or function. “This book is a self-learning tool anyone interested in improving service will benefit from as they apply the ideas, methods and systems.

“ Creating Superstars is an essential guide for the service industry, whichever sector you work in. This book brings to life Caroline’s  extremely effective customer service  workshops. Starting with a  clear vision from the leaders to enthusing the team and generating that essential oxygen of customer loyalty"

“I do not hesitate in recommending this book to anyone who really wants to grow their business.”

“I think it is fabulous, I started off thinking this is exactly how I think and I want to give it to my staff telling them that this is what I am talking about, please read it three times over and start embracing! I think for some people it will be a light on moment."

It’s available NOW on Amazon. You can get instant access to the Kindle version for just 99p from Amazon UK or $1.22 on Amazon.com. It will only be available at this launch price until next weekend (15th January) so order it now while you can. And if you like the book and would be happy to write a review for me on Amazon I’d be delighted to send you a complimentary copy as a thank you. (I just ask you pay a contribution to postage if sending to outside the UK). You can always pass it on to a customer or a supplier if you don’t want to read it again! p.s. here are the links again to grab your copy by Sunday 15th UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creating-Service-Superstars-confidence-initiative-ebook/dp/B01NAL0898/ Rest of world: https://www.amazon.com/Creating-Service-Superstars-confidence-initiative-ebook/dp/B01NAL0898/ signature blue     p.p.s. To claim your complimentary copy drop me an email to let me know you’ve written a review and tell me the name you’ve used (as I’d love to find out what you thought!). Save Save Save Save Save

3 things to do today to get 2017 off to a flying start

Here's  a short video with 3 things you can be doing this week to get your team engaged, enthused and energised for the year ahead and get 2017 off to a brilliant start. If you get them engaged now and show you are enthusiastic about the year ahead this will rub off on your team and in turn your customers too, and help with your whole customer experience.