As business owners and operators, it's easy to get caught up in our own agenda, in our own "this is how we do things" cycle. It is important to have a system and to follow it, but it is equally important to take a step back and analyze that system and process from the customer's perspective.
Have you ever gone to the bank and seen three or four tellers behind the counter, yet only one or two windows are open and the line is barely moving? Or have you gone to a restaurant and seen countless open tables, but been told there's a 20-minute wait? These, and countless other similar experiences, are all instances of a process that doesn't cater to the customer. As a customer, I'm extremely annoyed to have to stand in line and wait for something when I can see other employees working but not helping customers.
And as a customer, I have no idea what your position is or how important the tasks you're working on might be. So let me know. No, don't tell me that you're working on something that is more important than me as your customer, but acknowledge me. Say hello, tell me someone will be there to help me soon. Tell me that the tables in that section of the restaurant are closed because you don't have enough staff just yet, apologize for the inconvenience and then go about your business.
The worst thing is to be waiting for service and to feel ignored or disregarded. The other day, I was at the doctor's office and I was waiting an extremely long time in the waiting room after checking in with the nurse. The staff was busy, so I thought I should just wait my turn and be patient. Nearly an hour went by before I thought to check in with the front desk and remind them I was there. Turns out, they were having a hard time finding my chart and had been trying to locate it without mentioning anything to me.
The chart was under my maiden name. If they had mentioned the dilemma to me, I could have suggested looking under my old name long before an hour had passed.
But they were following their procedure. Lost chart, call the main office, check storage, request further info ... step 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
When you're stocking the shelves because you know you have a big wave coming in after school dismisses, or you have tables blocked off for a large dinner party, or you are waiting on hold with the IRS and a customer walks in, these are scenarios that come up for businesses of all kinds -- where you have an important task, something that needs to get done in a timely manner and you can't meet the needs of your customer in your usual manner. People understand that things come up and that things need to get done. What they don't understand is being treated like they are any less important than those tasks.
Let people know why there is an extra wait, or why you didn't immediately hang up the phone when they walked in your shop, or why you're out of their favorite flavor of coffee. "I'm so sorry about that! It's been really busy, and I just needed to take care of XYZ ..." Be sincere, be concerned and be real -- people will appreciate that.
Your customers don't always understand your procedures and aren't aware of all the behind-the-scenes tasks it takes to pull things off -- take some of that "behind the curtain" away and you'll find that people are appreciative of all that you do and far more understanding of any hiccups or displacement it causes them.
Just take a moment to see things from their perspective.
Kim Bowsher started her management track at Starbucks in Seattle. She now helps small businesses, putting to work the lessons she learned in the coffee business. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.