Business and Operations
Managing multiple customers
By Jeff Mowatt
By Jeff Mowatt
Dec. 28, 2012 – There are no absolute rules for juggling
customers – you need to adapt to your workplace's business realities. Here are five tips from Jeff Mowatt that help reduce
stress and boost customer loyalty.
Dec. 28, 2012 – You know the scenario . . . your workday is running smoothly and
manageably when suddenly you find yourself dealing with one customer in
front of you, another on the phone, while a third arrives with just a quick question. There are no absolute rules for juggling
customers – you need to adapt to your workplace's business realities. Here are five tips that help reduce
stress and boost customer loyalty.
Tip #1 Remember, this is good.
Having lots of customers wanting to do business with you is
wonderful. It means you and your organization are in demand. The
obvious solution to juggling multiple customers is just to hire more
people. Of course that's oversimplified, and may make no economic
sense, especially when there may be only one or two rush periods during
day or week. When you see more customers arrive, don't let them see you
sweat. Take the professional approach and broaden your smile – even
though it may be slightly forced. Keep in mind the adage of LL Bean who
said, "Customers are not interruptions to your work, they are the
purpose of your work."
Tip #2 Don't make things worse.
One of the most frequent gaffs in frontline service is when a
customer needs to ask a question but the employees are preoccupied –
talking with each other. Even more aggravating is when the staff congregates to socialize
while customers are left to fend for themselves. The place for
employees to chat and hold meetings is in the staff area; not in front
of customers. When you're on the floor, make yourself visible and available
to customers. Of course, that also means not interrupting your
co-workers who are talking to customers. If you need to talk to a
coworker who's taking care of a customer, give your colleague a quick
nod, then let him/her come to you when they've finished with the
customer. If you absolutely must interrupt, then excuse yourself and
apologize to the customer for the interruption, and as you leave, thank
the customer for their patience.
Tip #3 Walk-ins take priority over phone-ins
If you already have a visitor in front of you when the phone rings,
the visitor gets priority. The visitor took the time/spent the gas
money to arrive in person. Unless you have callers with genuine
emergencies, don't interrupt a visitor to pick up the phone. That's
what voice mail is for. If you must take the phone call, ask the
visitor's permission, explain that you want to focus on them, so you'll
quickly take a message and get back to your conversation. Then tell the
caller that you are with another customer but will look into their
request and call them back. That way, even if the caller insists on
immediate service, the visitor sees that you are at least trying to make
them the priority.
Tip #4 Acknowledge walk-ins right away
If you are on the phone or face-to-face with a customer when a
visitor walks-in, acknowledge the visitor immediately with eye-contact, a
smile and a quick, "I'll be with you in just a few minutes [or however
long it will be]." By acknowledging the visitor, you are conveying that
you are aware of them and that you are working quickly. And it tells
the person in front of you that you have other people waiting. Usually,
they'll get the hint that you need to wrap-up.
A common challenge is how to politely interrupt a phone caller to
acknowledge a walk-in visitor. Here's a quick tip – say the person's
name. "John, excuse me. I just had someone walk in, may I
put you on hold for a moment? Thanks." Beginning with the person's name
gets their attention immediately without being rude.
For new arrivals who have just a quick question: If it is
indeed quick, that's great; give them the 10 seconds they need and then
get back your first person. If it's going to take more than 10
seconds then tell the person, "That's going to take a few minutes to go
over, so I'll finish taking care of this person which will take me about
x minutes, then I'll be happy to help you. Meanwhile, if you'd like to
sit, grab a coffee . . . Thanks."
Tip #5 Address chronic staffing/line management issues
In tip #1 I pointed out that hiring more staff may not make
economic sense. However, when customers constantly get the impression
the organization is disorganized, understaffed or uncaring about
customers' time, that's a problem that requires more than just having
staff work faster. Managers need to either hire more staff, consider
moving phone calls to a call centre, or implement line management
practices. Meanwhile, be thankful that business is so good. Here's hoping that
this helps makes managing multiple customers less frustrating for
Customer service strategist and professional speaker, Jeff Mowatt is
an authority on The Art of Client Service . . . Influence with
Ease®. For Jeff's other tips, self-study resources, and training
services, visit www.JeffMowatt.com