A few weeks ago we went out for brunch with family and had a surprisingly bad customer service experience. They seated us at a table and said they were a little short-handed but would be with us ASAP. More than 15 minutes went by with not a single server even daring to make eye-contact with us. I finally went to the front to ask for menus. The hostess apologized and said someone would be right with us.
To make a long story short, it took 20 minutes to get drinks, and 30 minutes before someone took our order. When the food for our table finally arrived, our server was practically in tears. The kitchen had just told her that they were out of what I ordered and had forgotten to tell her. I picked something else off the menu, thinking it would be quick (bacon and eggs), and had to wait another 15+ minutes to be served. Everyone else was almost done eating by then.
So, what’s the point of this story? Customer Service is almost all that anyone remembers about your business, and consistency is the most important aspect of service to focus on. The hostess, the servers, even the 2 cooks (they normally have 4 in the kitchen) realistically had no chance to deliver good service because the owners of the establishment had not set them up to win. It was easy to see they were all working hard, that they really cared personally, and that it was ownership that had failed them.
In this day and age where so many businesses are short-handed, it is easy to throw up your hands and say “we are doing our best”, yet that is so far from the truth. Here are four things you can do to keep your levels of service consistent, even when short-handed.
1 – Manage your capacity
If you just don’t have the staff to fulfill your usual number of orders, take fewer orders until you do. Shorten hours, require reservations, have waitlists, whatever you need to do. Many businesses have a sign on the door explaining the limits on their capacity. Some put it on their website. Make it all about the customer – “In order to continue to provide you the best service …”. Modify/limit your offerings to what you are actually capable of delivering in a timely manner with your usual level of quality.
2 – Restructure how the work gets done
When you are short staffed, maybe it is time to abandon the old method of assigning work and cross-train to take more of a team approach when possible. While some work requires specialized training, much does not and can be trained quite quicky. Adapt, adapt, adapt with your team.
3 – Communicate with your customers!
It is not a surprise or secret to anyone that you are short-staffed or short of inventory, so don’t pretend everything is just fine when it isn’t. Don’t let long fulfillment times be an unspoken surprise. Check on their needs frequently, let them know how their orders are coming along. If something in their order is going to take an extra long time, let them know, give them options for immediate delivery of what you have in stock for them to fulfill their needs.
4 – Communicate with each other!
Every single team member should know what’s going on, and how they can help out. Conduct daily stand up meetings to highlight priorities and shortfalls and how they can help. What are we running short of that needs to be checked on every order to avoid late surprises? Who needs help, who can help them out? Act like a team, don’t fall into the us vs them mentality that often happens under stress. Insist they think and act in a Win, Win, Win manner.
The key to Customer Service isn’t being “world class”, whatever that means, it is delivering at a level you can consistently repeat. Of course you always want to improve, but “Yo-Yo” style service simply drives customers away.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can first make your service more consistent, and then steadily improve it, we are offering a FREE 60 minute Customer Service review with one of our coaches. Simply use this link to schedule yours.
Author: Mark McNulty, Business Coach in Louisville, KY