Special Lines

Once again, I’d like to propose my special holiday shopping line strategy to retailers and shop keepers everywhere.   Here it is:  We regular folks need a line.  I’m all for long wait times when I’ve got a cart full or electronics or baby dolls to put under the tree, but it’s exasperating to stand in line behind Christmas shoppers when all I need is a pound of ground beef.  Can’t management see me standing there, impatiently tapping my foot and fiddling with my sole package of meat, and recognize that I’m not like all those other people?  Look at me, I want to say.  I’m different!  I’m special!

And so, once again, I propose several big signs, divided into how much time we will take at Specialthe register:  “All the Christmas Shopping,”  “Picking Up a Few Last Minute Gifts,”  and “Just Ran in For Toothpaste.”

I’m jesting, of course, but the point remains:  Wait times are difficult.  Some people’s business takes more time than others, and those of us who just have a quick question to ask, need to purchase one item, or need a small repair job get impatient in the waiting.  Everybody thinks he or she is special—which is, in fact, true.  In customer service, every client is special!  It’s our job to figure out how to communicate that, and ease time and tempers, during our especially busy seasons.

Here’s a quick check list of small details which can eliminate wait times and/or frustration levels for your customers:

  •  Display your phone number. Look at your website.  Where is your phone number displayed?  Hint:  It should be at the very top. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to talk to customer service and having to scroll through pages and pages of web material to find a number.  It’s surprising how many sites bury theirs.  Don’t be one of them.
  • Don’t close a line. Replace the clerk.  Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than to stand in a line for even a few minutes, and then to have the employee take out a sign and announce, “I’m going on break.”  Work for smoother transitions.
  • Make sure your staff has adequate time for breaks. This might seem counter-productive, but actually, it’s the smartest thing to do.  A well-rested, well-cared for staff is more productive and competent.
  • Don’t allow employees to take breaks or engage in personal conversations with other employees in front of customers. This gives the appearance (perhaps rightfully so) that the employee is not fully attentive to customer service, and most likely slows down the sale.
  • Do be sure your staff gets breaks. A well-rested, well-cared for staff will be both more efficient and more friendly with your clientele.
  • Express lines save tempers—and customers. Every shop should have one during busy seasons.
  • Make sure lines are clear and well-marked. Think about your flow of traffic. If you need to rope off lines for returns, exchanges, complaints, and sales, do so.
  • Estimate wait times. When you put a client on hold or go to the back of the store to check on something, be sure to tell her what the wait time will be, and then check back in regularly. It is far less frustrating to stay on hold for ten minutes when a cheery voice keeps popping back in to report on progress.
  • Let clients in on your secrets. If there is a time of day when the lines are shorter, or you know of a product going on sale, share that information.
  • Staff adequately. Even if it means hiring an extra employee or two for holiday volume, this is a must.   An overwhelmed staff leads to slow down in service and back log.
  • Use your answering service. A well-trained answering service can answer basic questions, relay messages back and forth, schedule  clients, and confirm appointments.  This is an excellent solution for better client care, extra staffing, and efficiency during high volume times.

Challenge:  Which of these guidelines will improve my customers’ experiences the most?  Choose two and implement them this week.

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