Customer Service: Are You Losing Business Juggling Too Many Customers?

By Bob Phibbs

juggling retail customersJuggling customers is necessary for any retail store looking to provide customer service.

Unless your model is self-service, everyone from your cashiers to your manager to your retail salesperson must weigh and prioritize multiple customer needs in the blink of an eye.

Just as juggling too many balls can overtax the best juggler, there are a finite number of customers that a single employee can properly handle.

Once that limit is reached, no one benefits.The customers are unhappy, the employee is stressed and the business suffers.

If you have a tiny 300 sq. foot boutique, your size limits this issue but there a a lot of retailers out there working on two person coverage - or one!- to cover 3,000, 4,000 and higher square footage stores. Those brands' bean counters have it wrong...

You're kidding yourself if you think they can adequately deliver the customer service aspect of your business.

But I've seen your promotions, your desperate ads, your "friends and family" events all to get people in the door. The problem is, you don't value the people you already get in your doors. Otherwise you wouldn't expect associates to just "deal with it."

The Check-Out Line

It's been said many times that the last place that you want to delay a customer is when they are waiting to pay you. While this is true to a certain point, it also misses the mark a bit. Once customers have found their items, they are considerably less stressed and, while a line may be an inconvenience, if it keeps moving, most customers will not get too upset.

The problem arises when the cashier is given too many responsibilities other than simply checking customers out. If they are also tasked with answering the phone, greeting customers, pitching a service warranty or rewards program along with any of the other myriad duties that management feels can be fulfilled in the cashier’s downtime like stocking shelves, there has to be a problem with customer service.

And giving them a shiny new iPad won't change that.

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The Sales Process

Similarly, retail associates assigned to work on the salesfloor must be trained to make the job of service their first priority. Assigning them additional duties such as stocking, “facing” or cleaning is certainly worthwhile but not when management implies or actually says that the assigned duty is more important than delivering exceptional customer service.

If your customer is ignored so that these procedures can be completed and only engaged when they are at the counter, your staff is missing the point.

And you're leaving money on the table.

Who Should Really Juggle

Juggling indicates that the customers should figuratively be “touched” quickly and then moved on. Ideally, customers must be handled to whatever degree necessary to ensure their satisfaction in line with your store volume.

For example, on a busy Saturday afternoon, your employees don't have the luxury of chatting about their favorite place to fish with a sporting goods customer like it was a dead Tuesday morning. They have to juggle customers a bit.

Your manager’s job is to observe situations, look for the bottlenecks and then deploy the right assets in the right places. They should know who is waiting for an order, who hasn't been greeted and who is on break next.

This process means that a store manager should rarely be seen behind a register ringing up customers.

Your manager should walk the salesfloor, check on customers and get in front of any potential problems. At the end of the day, this prioritizing or juggling is the main job of a good manager.

The Bottom Line

Balancing the conflicting needs of low payroll and excellent customer service will always be a daunting task. Upper management must recognize the need for adequate, if not ample, employees in a location to properly provide good customer service.

If they don’t, sales and profit will steadily decline. And, if their customers start searching elsewhere for superior service, the business will enter a downward spiral from which it most probably will never recover.

I'm sure, like me, you can already name names...

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