Category Archives: Customer feedback

Continuous improvement in Customer Service

Here’s part 7 in my 12 blog series onbar-chart

how to engage and motivate your team on their return from their Christmas break

 

7. Continuous improvement

Customer Service isn’t something you tick off your list. It’s continually evolving, and there will always be little tweaks you can make to improve your service.

If you don’t do them already set up regular ‘buzz briefings’ which focus on customer service and continuous improvement, thus involving your team in discussions and spotting opportunities to improve service and make things easier for them to consistently deliver good service.

After all, many of them will spend more time with customers than you do and often spot things or hear things you might miss.

Each day (or as a minimum weekly) ask your team members for their feedback on the day to day operation and to come forward with suggestions on how things can be improved. Not just for the customer, but to make their lives easier too. Shaving 5 minutes off a task in one area can free up 5 more minutes to spend caring for customers elsewhere.

Even if you’ve tried something before and it hasn’t worked that doesn’t mean to say it’s not a good idea. Quash their ideas early on and they’ll be reluctant to come forward with suggestions in future.

 

Delivering great customer service is more than just a sheep dip exercise. read more here

 



Handling Complaints

question mark with speech bublesI’ve had a month of complaints! No, not in the way you might think… But helping a number of clients establish the best way to handle complaints, whether that be through staff training, gathering feedback to establish the cause or establishing systems to prevent them in the first place.

It seems counter intuitive, but as a business we should welcome complaints! WHY?

Because the alternative is we’re left not knowing when the customer isn’t happy.

Obviously prevention is better than cure (and you can read tips on prevention in a previous post right here).

But of course you’re not always able to pre-empt problems and won’t be able to avoid all complaints. Accidents happen, things get missed or events occur that are totally out of our control. So what can you do to lessen the impact on your customers’ experience and limit the potential damage to your customer relationships and your reputation?

Aim to spot problems as early as possible. Listen and observe. You can often sense there’s an issue long before you get told directly. And of course it’s far better to resolve a problem there and then than have a negative review posted on line.

Empower your team

Give your team the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.

Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently.  It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope!  Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

It’s all too easy when we hear of a complaint to blame someone in the team for the problem. Put the team first and they’ll reward you with avoiding problems.

 

Here’s a little 5 stage checklist you may find useful in customer service training on handling a complaint effectively irrespective of the cause.

I use this structure when training and together these form the acronym LEARN which is easy for team member to remember.

The way you handle the situation is what your customers will remember and if you can go above and beyond to resolve the problem, even when it’s down to a third party, customer error or even an act of God, it’s your resolve of the situation they’ll remember, not the cause.


Learn from Complaints

Here’s a little 5 stage checklist you may find useful in handling a complaint effectively irrespective of the cause:

  • Listen
  • Empathise
  • Agree on an acceptable solution
  • Resolve the problem
  • Next steps

Let’s look at each stage in more detail

Listen

It can be easy to get defensive when you receive feedback, particularly when you feel it is not justified or you totally disagree with it.

But something must have triggered their perception.  So listen to what your customer is saying.

Listen without interrupting to allow the customer to get it off their chest. Whilst listening think about your reaction; your body language, facial expressions or tone might all give negative messages back to the customer.

Getting irritated or angry you will only make the situation worse. It may be the 100th time you’ve heard this complaint, but your customer does not know this, so be patient as you listen. Stay calm, maintain eye contact and listen. Ask more questions if you need to in order to clarify. Focus on facts, but look to understand how they feel too.

It is useful to reflect back to the customer your understanding of the issue. Summarising their points using their words can show you’ve understood correctly, and it reassures the customer you have all the facts.

Maybe the problem was caused by the customer, but never accuse. This only makes the problem worse. No; the customer isn’t always right, but your goal should be to leave the customer positive and wanting to do business with you again; not to embarrass them, teach them a lesson or score points.

Show Empathy

Acknowledge and show you understand how the customer feels and show your concern, even if it’s not your fault.

The least you can do is to apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way).

Try to look at the situation from their perspective:

  • they might be frustrated because they’ve had a wasted journey
  • they may be disappointed for their child who can’t get what was promised for their birthday treat
  • they might be angry they’ve spent a lot of money on something that has not lived up to their expectation
  • they might be embarrassed as their special treat for a loved one has been a disappointment
  • they might be feeling anxious because they don’t yet have everything they need for an important meeting or event

Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you might feel in their situation. Your tone of voice is very important when responding. If you are overly calm you may come across as not being concerned or even patronising.

If you are in the wrong, be bold, and own up. Your customers will thank you for being honest and this all helps to keep the trust.

The very last thing to do is make excuses. Frankly your customers don’t care about your staff shortages, that your suppliers have let you down, that the ‘x’ machine is broken, your company policy, or that no one else has complained. Nor are they interested in hearing “that’s nothing to do with us; it’s down to the organisers / council / landlord….etc.”

Irrespective of whose fault it is your aim should always be to do what you can to have the customer go away happy.

Agree an acceptable solution

Getting it off their chest might be all a customer wants and a simple apology is all that’s needed.

But others will be seeking a resolution. So focus on looking for potential solutions.

It’s important to strike a balance between being positive but showing concern. Use positive language that demonstrates your desire to resolve it. Such as: “Let’s see what we can sort out for you.”  “I’m sure we can get this sorted.”  “If I do ___ would that be acceptable?”

Resolve

Of course, having agreed a resolution do what you say you’ll do. If you can resolve the problem there and then (which is always preferable) do a check back to ensure the customer is now happy. If it is something that can’t be resolved now, or the action will need a follow up, confirm when this will happen and who will do this.

Find ways you can go the extra mile to compensate in some way for their inconvenience.

Next steps

You obviously want to avoid a recurrence of the issue, so take whatever steps are needed to resolve the same thing happening again.

And the final stage is to get reassure customers by showing how you are going to avoid the problem in future, so you can re-establish trust. A customer is unlikely to want to come back if they think they are going to encounter the same problem next time.

I use this structure when training and together these form the acronym LEARN which is easy for team members to remember.



Empower your team to handle complaints

Complaints Concept. Word on Folder Register of Card Index. Selective Focus.

When conducting customer service training include complaint handling.

Getting feedback from your customers is essential to gauge whether or not what you offering is right for your target audience. Whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not is key to your success.

But so many team members shy away from any feedback in case they hear something that they can’t deal with, or that reflects badly on them.

Of course, not being able to deal with it is frustrating, not only for the customer but also for the employee, and ultimately for you if you get called in each and every time there’s a complaint.

So as well as training your team in how to manage service when all’s going smoothly and to plan teach them to deal with the ‘what if’ situations, i.e. how to deal with things when they go wrong.

This includes giving them the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it, which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.

Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently. It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope! Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

If you adopt a culture of it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn from it, your team will be far more confident to, not only deal with complaints, but also feedback so everybody learns, and ultimately of course to prevent the same problems happening again.

 



Do your customers feel appreciated?

thank your customers

 

It’s estimated that over two thirds of customers will fail to return if they feel unappreciated. This is probably the number one reason businesses lose customers.

So when speaking at a professional services group members meeting this week I was surprised by their reaction to the idea of saying thank you. To them this felt uncomfortable.

But how you say thanks is less important. It’s the fact you do something – anything – to show you appreciate your customer choosing to do business with you over and above all the other people or businesses they could have chosen.

What do you do to say thanks to your loyal customers so they feel appreciated?

Here are 5 things you could be doing if you’re not already…

1. Simply saying thank you

The easiest way to do this is of course is a sincere thank you in person.

But depending on the nature of your business and the value and relationship with each individual customer you could follow up with a simple thank you message.

By this I mean a personalised physical thank you note. Some think in this web based age this is out dated; but how would your customers react to receiving a handwritten personal note in the post, rather than another bland email clogging up their inbox?

It might be more appropriate to say thank you to a whole team of people. I’ve yet to find a team who doesn’t appreciate a special treat they can share in the office over coffee.

If your relationship is an ongoing one find an ‘excuse’ to make a thank you gesture. An anniversary, perhaps; a proud moment; moving house; or even to mark a special date in your own calendar, such as achieving an award; launching a new service; etc.

Which brings us nicely onto the next item…

2. Exclusivity

Give them privileged access to services, events, information or facilities which are only available to existing or your most valued customers, and not available to new customers. The more exclusive the better!

How does it make you feel when you see promotions offering special deals for new customers that aren’t available to you as an existing customer?

Make your loyal customers feel valued and special. Think of it like a members club, that delivers real benefits to members.

3. Remember them

Not only addressing your customers by name (although don’t under estimate the impact of this, especially when you aren’t expecting it). It’s also about remembering their preferences.

Do they have any particular likes and dislikes; special requirements, or preferences?

Do we know their important dates? How do they take their coffee? Remembering simple details will always be appreciated.

Record personal details and any special requirements so the service they receive is consistent whoever attends to them.

4. Ask for feedback

I know I’ve already mentioned this recently on this blog, but I’ll say it again…

Never take your regulars for granted; ask for their feedback and resolve any shortfalls quickly.

Problems or challenges are often your opportunity to shine and leave a positive lasting impression if dealt with positively. Now’s a chance to exceed expectations.

Face to face will always win over a questionnaire.

Ask customers what they like and what (if anything) disappoints; learn from this and continually improve. Customers appreciate you asking for their opinions as long as you follow through.

Keep them updated to demonstrate you’ve been listening. What better excuse to invite them back to show the changes you’ve implemented?

5. Show you care

Be attentive to your customers’ individual needs and specific circumstances. Listen, engage and take time to show your genuine interest in them.

Take every opportunity to give spontaneous and unexpected little extras that they won’t get from your competitors.

These may be totally unrelated to your products or services, but simply something you know they’d appreciate. They’ve mentioned something in passing they love, but can’t’ get hold of it; they have a problem in some other aspect of their life, but you happen to see something you think might help; you know it’s a loved one’s birthday and you happen to have something you think they’d enjoy…

Pay attention to detail, be consistent, do that little bit extra when needed, so your customers always feel appreciated.

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I’d love to hear what do you do to say thanks to your loyal customers?


Accept the gift of feedback

12 days of a customer focused Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me…question mark with speech bubles

 

Tip #1

Accept the gift of feedback

Never take your regular customers for granted; ask for their feedback and resolve shortfalls quickly. Listen and observe so you can avoid any problems before they arise.

Your customer feedback is a gift. It gives you the chance to learn and put things right so seek customer feedback whenever you can, ideally first-hand. Listen and ensure you understand the feedback before responding and acting on it.


What irritates customers?

What irritates you?Why?

A couple of weeks ago the Sunday Times ran an article on what irritates hotel guests the most. I have to say it brought a wry smile to my face as nearly everything mentioned I’ve experienced myself.

But it’s not just hotels that can get the simplest of things wrong. Are you ever left puzzled and wondering why on earth a business does what it does when it has a negative impact on the customer?

What are the things that most irritate you when you are a customer?

I thought I’d share with you my top twelve most irritating practices. Forgive me if this comes over as a bit of a rant, but do you know of any businesses that are guilty of any of these? Maybe, as it’s the season of goodwill you might like to let them know so they can do something about it!

1. Road to nowhere

Hiding their postcode away on the website or worse still having a postcode that won’t work in helping you locate them. Yes, it might be an accurate postcode used by the Post Office, but 99.9% of people who are looking for a postcode will only wanted it to help locate them, not to be sent round the houses or to a back entrance.

What comes up on Google maps and satnavs for your postcode?

2. Everything’s out

When you ask a member of staff for something and all they can respond is ”Everything we have is out” doesn’t actually answer the question! It’s as good as saying “I don’t know and don’t much care”. Don’t they know what they have in stock?

Why would any customer want to go searching if the answer is no, and if the answer is yes for goodness sake help us find it!

3. Impracticalities

What I mean here is when something just can’t perform the tasks for which it was designed.

For example in a hotel room when the kettle is positioned so that it can’t reach the socket without having to rearrange everything on the table, or even putting the kettle on the floor so the cord reaches the socket. Worse still having moved said kettle and going back to your room later to find it moved back to its old position, so you have to do it all again.

Does your layout or process make it easy for customers and if they ask for something to be changed do you oblige or go back to your ‘standard’?

4. Look but don’t touch

You know in clothes stores when jumpers are all beautifully folded but you can’t see what they are really like without picking it up and feeling awkward in case you ruin the display?

Same goes for leaflets or useful info that’s all pristinely laid out.

Do you encourage customers to browse, or make them feel awkward?

5. Packaging

Taking delivery of a package that has so much tape on it it’s impossible to open it without taking to the knife and running the risk of ruining the contents inside as you do so.

Why are we so obsessed with so much packaging?

6. Do I need new specs?

Typefaces which are far too small to read. Small type on menus in romantically lit restaurants, working out which is the soap and which is the hand cream in the toilets without having to put your glasses on, business cards which require a magnifying glass to read the contact details…

Same applies online; dark fonts on a dark background (often the hyperlinks) that are all but invisible, log in areas or page menus tucked away in small fonts.

Have a thought for us oldies! As we get older our eyesight gets weaker so it’s not a good idea to rely on the views of trendy young thirty somethings!

7. Your call is important to us

It’s bad enough being put on hold, but when you’re not even asked first of all if you’re prepared to wait, and then left with atrocious deafening music. Even worse when you’re told “Your call is important to us”.

What do your customers get to hear when they are put on hold?

8. How much is it?

The saying goes “If you have to ask the price you probably can’t afford it” comes to mind when you can’t find a price tag. Why do some businesses insist on hiding the price away so you have to hunt for it leaving you wondering if the above statement is true?

How visible and transparent is your pricing?

9. Now where?

When you’re involved in a business day in day out you know where to go or what to do next. But of course customers are not so familiar.  We like guidelines and good signage that tell us where to go or what to do next.

How clear is it on your website what step to take next, or when arriving at your business which way to go?

10. Premium numbers

The whole concept of being charged a premium to call a business when I’m the customer is beyond me, yet how many businesses only list a number which if not premium from a landline will certainly be premium from a mobile.

Worse still not listing a phone number at all and making me go through web forms to make any kind of contact which of course is dependent on being online.

How easy is it for customers to contact you directly?

11. That’s not in my script

A script might be fine as a guideline. But when it’s followed to the letter irrespective of your responses, you may as well not bother.

Do all your team listen and know how to respond appropriately if they get an unexpected response from the customer?

12. Not delivering what’s promised

Stuff happens and there are times we really can’t deliver what’s been promised. But not letting me know till the last minute leaves me high and dry with fewer options.

How well do you keep your customers informed if you’re about to miss the target …even if it’s because you’re waiting on them for an answer…?

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So these are some of the things that most irritate me.

How about you? What are the things that bug you when you’re the customer?

p.s. The chances are that if any of these things irritate you, there’ll be things that irritate your customers in your business.

And if you’re not sure?

Two things you can do…

  1. Have everyone in your team (including you) experience as much of the customer journey as possible AS A CUSTOMER.
    .
  2. ASK YOUR CUSTOMERS directly for their feedback. What little things can you do to make it a smoother, quicker or all round better customer experience?

It’s more than just a questionnaire

checklistYou know that moment when you ask someone for their feedback or opinion and they say one thing, but you hear from their hesitation or in their tone that they think something different?

Well, that’s the beauty of face to face feedback.

So often when I discuss with clients how they gather customer feedback they refer to a questionnaire, be that online or a physical document.

There’s no doubt the feedback you gather from customers can be so valuable. Without it how do you know what’s working and what’s not, and how can build on the good and put right the not so good?

So gathering customers’ feedback via some kind of questionnaire is surely better than nothing…

BUT, and this is a big but, it’s a far cry from direct face to face in the moment feedback.

Why?

Here are 7 reasons you might not want to rely solely on questionnaires for feedback

  1. If you don’t know about any issues until you get back the questionnaire, 9 times out of 10, it’s going to be too late to resolve things before the customer leaves or ends their relationship with you
  2. Whilst you’re still blissful unaware of any issues other customers continue to be affected in the same way
  3. It’s too easy to ignore a questionnaire.  It’s an interruption, often overly long winded and there may be little incentive from the customer’s perspective once the moment has passed
  4. A questionnaire can’t cover every conceivable aspect of your service (or if it does it’ll be way too long and likely to get the customer to abandon it half way through) so it’s easy to miss things that are important to your customer
  5. There’s often a time lag so the facts get forgotten or distorted: negative experiences get amplified and positive ones diluted in the customer’s mind. Likewise you’ve forgotten the specifics which means following up becomes more time consuming as there’s invariably a lot of back tracking to be done
  6. Your customer has had the chance to tell others before telling you (and we all know these days that’s not just one or two close friends!)
  7. Finally to my mind the biggest drawback, the feedback you receive is impersonal and one way, so loses those all-important subtle nuances you get when having a face to face dialogue.

So with so many fundamental flaws, don’t just rely on questionnaires – get out there and ask your customers directly what they think and how what you can do to make their experience even better.

We have to accept though that sometimes that feedback isn’t forthcoming, or it’s impractical to get to hear everyone’s feedback right away. That’s when we need to be keeping our ear to the ground and listening to what our customers are sharing amongst themselves.

As an example this weekend I was trying to register for my Boots Advantage card. The system refused to accept my temporary number, and when I tried to call the number printed on their leaflet it was out of date! So, no prizes for the customer experience to this point.

But, when I sent them a message via Facebook, I had a reply almost straight away. Was this just luck? Maybe, but stop and think for a moment just how many businesses are being talked about every hour or every day on social media – whether that’s Twitter, Trip Advisor or any one of hundreds of others.

So with so many how do you keep tabs? As a minimum set up Google Alerts for your name and business so you know when you’re being talked about. Although you won’t get instant feedback you can set this up so you get notifications as they happen, daily or weekly. Now if you wait a week to find out it’s too late!

But depending on your business you might choose to devote time and effort to monitoring the platforms most used by your customers, so you (or one of your team) can respond in the moment. Of course this means resolving customers’ queries and / or complaints. And what better way to appease a disgruntled customer than picking up on their post, thanking them for their feedback and responding straight away when they’re least expecting it.

But customer feedback doesn’t always equate to negative feedback. Think how often your customers say great things about you, share photos, even let their friends (and YOU) know they are coming to visit you.

What a fabulous opportunity that gives to engage with your customers, share their enthusiasm and create positive word of mouth.

So whether it’s in real world or virtual world, don’t hide behind a form or bury your head in the sand: ask, listen and act on your customers feedback

 


Would a poor customer experience make your customers cancel their membership?

My friend Julie just cancelled her gym membership, and it’s flagged up 5 important lessons on how to retain your valued customers.

You see for me ‘membership’ is all about getting access to something that non-members don’t get.

She’d been going to the same Saturday morning class now for over 10 years, maybe even 12 or 13. She’d lost count, but it’s a while.  So you could deduce from that that she’d been a loyal customer.

Well, no. Actually she was loyal to the instructors, but not the gym itself. But she continued to pay her monthly membership despite getting nothing like a return on her monthly investment in monetary terms. But she knew by having the membership it at least kept her on the straight and narrow for at least once a week, and because she admits she’s inherently lazy and often disorganised, it saved her hunting around for the class subs every Saturday morning. So there’s been a perception of value attributed to that. So far so good…

So why cancel now? Well, it got to the point where the ‘extra’ she’d been paying was no longer outweighed by the value as she’d been let down once too many times.

So where has it all gone wrong, and what are the lessons to learn?

 

Listening and acknowledging

Julie and her fellow members asked for some replacements for basic equipment. No acknowledgement of the request for 12 months. Then they were told it’s too expensive. Even when they were asked to complete a customer satisfaction survey no one acknowledged their comments. Now eventually they have some replacements, but it all felt like too little too late.

Lesson to be learnt: Listen to your valued customers. Even if you can’t oblige, offer some alternatives (they had the same equipment in the gym, but never offered these) acknowledge their requests, show some empathy and keep them posted of progress.

 

Don’t pass the buck

The hall they use is shared with a school, so whenever there was a problem the school got the blame. As a customer she didn’t care who was responsible, she just wanted it resolved.

Lesson to be learnt: When things go wrong, don’t apportion blame – your customer doesn’t care whose fault it is – just get it sorted. Same goes for your team too, empower them to take responsibility to resolve problems quickly.

 

Build a relationship

After so many years she never felt like a regular. There was absolutely no acknowledgement that she was there week in week out, and still got asked what class she was attending and if she was a member.

When a class was changed it would be good to know beforehand, not find out once you get there.  But apart from that this was a massive wasted opportunity. They frequently had open days, but never bothered to tell them so she didn’t even get the chance to invite others along; it all seemed to be focussed on new members.  But if they could have got her ‘hooked’ on another class her membership would have started to pay for itself again.

Lesson to be learnt: Remember your regular customers, their preferences, their personal details and use this knowledge to keep them informed of anything that might interest them. And make them feel welcome and one of the crowd.

 

Trust

This was the nail in the coffin. Having introduced a new member in January she was expecting a month’s free membership as per the ‘conditions’. She chased and chased to get this back, and resorted to cancelling her direct debit for a month so they wouldn’t be able to take the money.

Lesson to be learnt: Always stick by your word and have systems in place to make sure nothing can go wrong. Particularly when money is involved.

 

Review your customers’ journey

The sad thing about all of this is I believe they are totally oblivious to any of these problems or think they aren’t important.  Julie said she’d never seen a manager there on a Saturday. And whenever she fed anything back it was as if it was the first time anyone had ever heard the idea or request.

So my final lesson to be learnt: Get out there and talk to your customers. Take the customer journey and look at everything as if you were them. Look to see where the cracks are in your business so you can resolve them before your customers ‘cancel their membership’

 

Now your turn to check if anything even remotely akin to this ever happens to your customers……


Damage Limitation

Even with the best will in the world sometimes there are things that go wrong; accidents happen, things get missed or events occur that are totally out of your control. So what can we be doing the lessen the impact on our customers’ experience and limit the potential damage to our reputation?

Prevention is better than cure

In a perfect world we’d prevent complaints happening. And certainly we can minimise the number of complaints by taking a few simple actions.

Firstly customers are far more understanding of the situation if they all kept informed or forewarned of any problems. For example, if you know that you’re likely to be busy at certain times of the day, make every effort to let your customers know this. If you let them know when the quieter times are, this not only helps them, it evens out the peaks and troughs for you too.

When you know something is unavailable; maybe something that is a popular feature or product that is not available for whatever reason, give people as much notice as possible either through your website, when booking if relevant, prior to travel or on arrival to minimise disappointment.

The key here is to offer choice and alternatives. This might be a great opportunity to introduce your customers to something they haven’t tried before, or something that could be classed as an ‘upgrade’ (at no additional cost to them, of course). This way they’re introduced to something new, which is good for you, and they get to experience something over and above what they were expecting, so enhances their value for money. A win-win.

Make use of waiting timequeue

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. For example 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’).

For example: hotel checkout at peak times in the morning; you may not have enough terminals to have more people actually doing the checkout, you can at least have people on hand to deal with any queries, printing out bills and so forth. 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.

Use customer waiting time as an opportunity to share information, which might speed things up later on. For example, if diners are waiting for a table, give them a menu beforehand so they can be choosing whilst queuing. If queuing to enter an attraction, have information available on the layout, so once inside your visitors have already planned their itinerary.

You can even use the time to entertain, so customers don’t feel put out at all. But, I’m not suggesting anything like the awful music we often get subjected to when we are put on hold, or worse still the sales pitch we get. No, I’m talking about genuine entertainment!

Make waiting time a pleasurable experience by offering your customers something to compensate for their wait. In a hotel or restaurant this might be afternoon tea or a free cocktail, at an attraction or venue this might be a free programme or guide as a thank you for waiting, in a florist or gift shop this might be free gift wrap. 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.)

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.

 

When the chips are down

But of course you’re not always will be able to avoid all complaints. And on occasions we’ll get complaints about things which are totally out of our control anyway.

Most customers accept that things can go wrong from time to time. But only if they’re kept informed.

For example:

If something they’ve asked for is no longer available; will be it be available later or not at all. What’s the alternative? What can you offer that might be as good as or even better.

If there is a delay, does the customer wait, or do they do / have something that doesn’t involve waiting? Well, that might 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.

 

Explanations not excuses

Being kept informed is not about making excuses!  It’s about keeping the customer informed of the situation and giving them options…

However there may be times when a little explanation helps diffuse the situation. If there’s been an accident, if it would be unsafe, if their preferred option is not up to standard and likely to disappoint. If it’s relevant to help them see why they’re not getting the experience they’d hoped tell them; if not, don’t! Customers really aren’t interested in your staff shortages or that your suppliers have let you down or that the ‘x’ machine is broken.

 

And despite our best efforts they’ll be times when all they are interested in is having their say and having someone listen to them, and an opportunity to let off steam.

Better they do that to us than on TripAdvisor!

 

So in summary to make the best of a bad situation and minimise the negative emotions and potential back flak from customers

  • Let customers know at the earliest opportunity when there may be a problem that might impact them, so they can make a decision on whether to wait or risk it, or whether to change or cancel their choice.
  • Let them know when what you’ve promised can’t be delivered so they can plan accordingly
  • Offer an alternative or give the customer a number of options
  • Offer something by way of a reasonable compensation to show you appreciate their patience or inconvenience
  • And most of all, admit to any mistakes on your part. Don’t be too proud to apologise.

 

Your customers will appreciate your honesty and this all helps to keep the trust and relationship sweet, so your customers remain loyal.