Monday, May 16, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** Give Service a Break

Give Service a Break
By Gil C. Schmidt

It was simply a matter of time. I walked into a store where there was only one checkout line in operation. The cashier, a young lady named Judith that I had known for some time, was dealing with paying customers, walk-ins asking for information and returns, a situation so absurd I thought it was a joke.

The discount store was normally a quiet place, but the buzz of angry customers was getting quite loud…most of it directed at Judith. Her quick, accurate motions were soon replaced by nervous, jerky gestures. She dropped change, rang up items with the wrong price and didn’t notice when a would-be wise guy tried to parlay his “question” into skipping to the head of the line. That was cut off by several people and the spam hit the fan (as they say in polite company.)

The line became a crowd and Judith was its target. She did the best she could, trying to regain a semblance of order, but it wasn’t until I stepped in and two other ladies spoke up for order that the situation was defused. It still led a handful of customers to abandon shopping carts or simply drop their items in any convenient spot and walk out of the store. Possibly never to return.

And where was the manager in all this? Sitting in his office. Until I knocked on the door and showed him what was happening. His response? “That’s her job.”

No, meathead, it isn’t. Her job, and that of anyone in service, is to help a reasonable number of people with a reasonable number of requests over a reasonable period of time. The problem stems when the word “reasonable” is left out of the equation or is stretched to ludicrous lengths. What happened to Judith was an extreme example, but more common ones occur every day.

The combination of reasonable number of people and a reasonable number of requests is usually handled well by businesses. We might complain that the bank is short one or two tellers, or that the supermarket is missing a cashier or two, but a business needs to operate on the basis of the most likely scenario and cost control, so having one or two people less than your optimum is not a bad thing (from the business’ point of view.)

The common problem is having these people try to provide service over an extended period of time. Studies have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that service quality decreases after a person has been working for over two hours and is at its worst when working more than four hours straight.

The solution is to rotate service providers into other tasks about every two hours. Many successful businesses already do this, but it takes managerial skill and consistency to make it work. Yes, it takes more planning and training time, but the payoff is almost always a better service team and more satisfied customers.

Give your service people a break from the pressure of delivering customer service and watch as their satisfaction level—and that of your customers—rises to new heights.


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