We always think of the 101 things we could be doing instead. Whether it’s waiting in a queue, being put on hold, waiting for a slow internet connection or waiting for a meeting or delivery, any of these situations can try our patience.
So why do businesses think it’s acceptable to keep their customers waiting?
We’ve all experienced being put on hold and told how “your call is important to us”. Unfortunately it doesn’t make us feel any better! Queues and being kept waiting are never going to be popular with your customers. But do what you can to minimise the impact.
Give customers a choice
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 are put on hold if we’re 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? Being honest (and not making false promises and under estimating) allows to 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.
How many times have you waited in for a service engineer or delivery that then doesn’t materialise? If you say a parcel will be delivered or the engineer will call between 12 and 3 make darn sure they do! Better still, narrow that window down to an hour, 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…
Prevention is better than cure
Start by monitoring your busy times. If you know when your peak times are adjust your staffing accordingly (ensuring appropriate training is given to anyone who is redeployed to ‘help out’). I’m still amazed when I go into places that are inevitably busy at lunchtime only to see staff going for lunch at their peak times. Crazy! You wouldn’t expect restaurant staff to have their break at lunch time so why would any other business dependent on lunch time trade do so?
If you know you experience peaks and troughs of activity triggered by events such as the weather, road conditions, publicity, news coverage – whatever it might be – monitor it and prepare for it. Even if you don’t have enough space, equipment or outlets to serve more customers at any one time, but 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.
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.
Do customers ever have to repeat information they’ve already given, double back to access things they need, or duplicate processes, which not only wastes their valuable time, but takes more effort on their part?
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? Or 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.
And it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway…) stick to agreed times for meetings. Whether this is a one to one meeting or an event involving many people, if you’ve agreed a meeting time or kick off time, stick to it.
Make use of waiting time to save time elsewhere
If people do have to wait, make this as painless as possible. Can you divert people from queues to other options to achieve the same result? Cut red tape and open up alternative channels where you can.
Can customers be doing other things whilst queuing which will save time once they get served – filling out forms, reading information that might help with their buying decision, processing payment? At the very least being kept informed of progress and seeing the queue moving.
I’ve just heard about our local county show. It’s a highlight for our local town and as the weather was good families turned out for a fun day out. And although this should have been a bonus for the organisers it backfired. Why? Because of the way they failed to manage the queues.
A ‘jobsworth’ security guard with no empathy for the waiting visitors. Who took no responsibility for action, just blaming the organisers (indirectly his employer). No suggestion of diverting to another entrance with shorter queues. No one taking cash payments from people in the queue to speed things up. No coordination, so visitors had to join another queue to pay their admission.
Net result? Visitors giving up and going home. Or at best fed up and disgruntled once inside. Hmm, and I can bet those people would have spent a whole lot less once inside, will be reluctant to go next year, and have probably told all their friends and family. (How do you think I got to hear about it?)
Such as shame as I know how much heard work went on behind the scenes to make this event a success.
Alleviate the pain
You can even use the time to entertain, so customers don’t feel put out at all. I’m not suggesting anything like the awful music we often get subjected to when we are put on hold, TV screens in every corner or worse still the sales pitch we get. No, I’m talking about genuine entertainment! Something that appeals to your customers’ tastes, even if this isn’t your first choice!
Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to distract from and compensate for their wait. The least you can do is offer refreshments.
For example, my husband was kept waiting over 20 minutes the other evening when he checked into his hotel room. All this time he stood at the reception desk, while they sorted out their system (a system incidentally that wasn’t very efficient as they’d already lost his booking, despite having an emailed confirmation…. But that’s another story!) Couldn’t they have offered him a seat as a minimum whilst they sorted it out? Better still a drink after his 4 hour drive to get there. Not a good start to the customer relationship.
If refreshments aren’t a practical option, what can you do to that is relevant to your business? 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; it’s time you reviewed your customer experience. Waiting should be the exception, not the norm. (And compare this investment to the cost of losing the customer altogether.)
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 quickly. And if people have been kept patiently waiting for even a few moments, at the very least acknowledge this and thank them for their patience.
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 second there may not seem much individually, but add them all together and you might save your customers considerably time.
Even if the way you do things in your business are “industry norms” can you be the first to break the mould and do things differently. Look at what Metro Bank are doing to change the norms in banking, for example.
However, remember you don’t want customers to feel rushed, so apply time savings sensibly and appropriately.
Never compromise quality for speed.
And don’t use it as an excuse for staff members to cut corners or make mistakes.
It’s a fine balance. Test and review and tweak accordingly.