Under-serving Customers

Short staffedToday’s business model extols the virtues of doing more with less; that is often translated into serving more customers with less staff. If you sift through the Web sites and blogs that offer advice on providing great customer service, you would be hard pressed to find many that recommend having enough staff on hand to do that. The popular lists talk about smiling, listening, training, communicating and a host of other well-intentioned homilies. At the end of the day however, if your staff is stretched beyond its reasonable limits then your customer service outcomes will be inconsistent at best.

A recent trip to my local drug store put this front and center in my mind. The super drug stores have all but replaced the small, family-owned shops, which catered to the customer who need to make a quick trip to pick up one or a small bag of items in-between major shopping excursions. The chain drug store I tend to frequent almost always schedules one person to run the front counter and relies on calls of help over a loudspeaker to provide backup. The employees who are called have other responsibilities and are not easily available so there is always a lag in getting to customers. Heaven forbid if a customer has a question or issue that cannot be resolved by scanning into a register; that is when the whole system breaks down. During my last drug store visit, I waited behind a customer, who picked up a common cold remedy product, which when scanned, gave the clerk the message that the product was recalled and could not be sold.

The clerk offered no explanation or alternative for the customer; she was left consider her options and to grouse quietly about the product being on the shelf in the first place. What further created a poor experience for her was that just before getting to her recalled medicine, the register scanner had trouble reading the digital coupon on her cell phone and again, the clerk was of little use in resolving the problem. Like most of us who do not wish to be that person who holds up the line at the store, she began feeling the pressure to simply, get out of the way. I made a point not to exhale loudly or display any impatience, but the frustrated customer ultimately walked away from the counter in search of a replacement product and leaving the clerk to deal with the other items scattered around the register.

It would be simplistic to lay the blame entirely at the feet of the clerk and there is no doubt that he could have handled the situation much better. However, it is also fair to ask why the recalled cold medicine was still on the shelf at eight-o-clock at night. It is also fair to question why he was not provided a list of alternative products for the customer to purchase instead. These two questions led me to consider whether there was enough staff on hand that day to update the inventory and restock the shelves properly. I considered whether management was willing or able to train and communicate changes with their staff each day. I also had to consider whether that employee was frustrated at constantly being put in situations in which he is not equipped or trained. I consider these things because I have been in these situations myself.

If this employee lasts at this job, it will be for no other reason other than acquiring a paycheck and perhaps healthcare benefits. Sadly, this is the attitude that all too many customer-facing individuals carry when they greet and deal with customers. Having a barebones staff is the low-hanging fruit of business accounting and even with outstanding team members, there will be times when customers will feel under-appreciated. Employees at the front lines of customer service require more support, not less. Customers need to feel that they are doing more than going through a cattle line. If you find that you are turning over a consistently high number of people whose job it is to be the face of your company, you should consider whether you are frustrating those employees out the door. If that is not enough for you to make substantive changes to your approach to staffing, then perhaps you should consider how many customers you are also pushing out the door.

~ Richard

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About Richard
I have spent my entire life learning to be a better communicator in in all facets of my life. I have learned as much from my failures as I have from success; laughing, crying and loving along the way. After earning a B.S. in Communications I decided to share what I have learned while continuing my own personal growth. I believe that the better we are to each other, the richer our lives will become.

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