Busy 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.