PEMBROKE, Mass. — A customer walks into your store and says a few words to the counter person. Your employee enacts some business: looks up an order, takes in money, pulls the order off the rack and hands it to the customer, or checks the status of an item. Then the customer leaves.
This exchange is typically brief—three to five minutes at most—but it is the most important few minutes for you and your customer.
This time of customer/employee interaction is an opportunity for your business to shine or to disappoint. It is how the customer forms his/her opinion of his/her dry cleaner. The customer walks out with answers to these questions:
- Are these staffers sharp?
- Do they have their systems down?
- Is the company cooperative?
- Does the firm care about the customer?
- Does the concern take pride in its work?
Notice I say the business. But it’s not the business that conveys these feelings, it’s a lone employee. Probably, it’s a part-time staffer who won’t be around next year. Thus, it’s imperative for management to pay attention to these vital three or four minutes.
Here, then, are five annoying clerk traits or behavior patterns. Any one of the five could get the customer to think of your business as a marginal operation. These are characteristics to focus on. Educate the staffers and eliminate the behaviors.
ABSENCE OF URGENCY
You’ve seen it hundreds of times. The staffer slowly processes an order…stopping to talk to someone else…looking around, nice and slow…taking her sweet time, so that your customer wants to scream, “Will you please concentrate on this transaction? I don’t have all day!”
In fact, the staffer has no idea that the woman might want to get in and out. Maybe she has three kids in the car. Maybe she’s late for an appointment. Maybe she has to get home to make supper. No matter. Your staffer simply will not be rushed.
To prevent this dilatory behavior, talk to your staffers about urgency. Make it clear that he or she needs to finish each transaction in as little time as possible, without seeming to rush or be too intensely focused. Do some role-playing. Watch the staffer to see that he/she is speedy enough.
CHATTING WITH CO-WORKERS
Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than to have a counter person, right in the middle of the transaction, stop what he or she is doing and converse with a co-worker, even if it’s nothing more than “Don’t you wish” or “I bet you’d like that.” Even looking up and nodding to a co-worker is a no-no. It shows that they’re not focused on the task at hand.
Even worse is the staffer who stops waiting on a customer to walk away and help a co-worker. The customer is there, and the clerk has been completing the order. What right does he have to stop in the middle and do something else? Focus, focus, focus.
Inform your staffers that they should never interrupt a transaction, and if they do, there better be a good reason for doing so. Perhaps this dictum is in order: if anyone is caught diverting attention from an order so that the customer becomes visibly annoyed, the individual will be docked $10 in pay. You simply are not going to tolerate that sort of behavior.
So many customer encounters go bad because the counter staffer doesn’t speak clearly, doesn’t enunciate his words, and utters his words at the speed of light.
I bet if I stood around a dry cleaner’s counter for eight hours, I would hear “What did you say?” about 250 times. It’s frustrating, annoying and aggravating. Both parties are perturbed—the customer who can’t understand what the counter person is saying and the counter person who must repeat each thing he says. Basic communication shouldn’t be that difficult.
To eliminate this poor practice, make staffers practice their lines. Role-play, with one person being the counter person and the other person being the customer. Observe their interaction and provide direction: speak more slowly; be loud and clear; enunciate every syllable; don’t slur your words; pause after making a statement; stand up straight; address the customer so that he or she can see your face. Keep at it until the staffers improve.
ALLOWING OTHER CUSTOMERS TO INTERRUPT
You’re processing an order for a customer when another butts in with a question. What should you do? Stop assisting the original customer and help the impatient customer? Wrong. Say something like, “Please let me finish,” and continue the in-process transaction.
Same thing applies to a phone call. If you’re the only one who can answer the phone, pick it up and say, “Please hold,” and continue with the transaction. Don’t wait for a response, for the customer will either hold or will call back. If you stop, the new customer’s issue might take up more time than you want and the customer left waiting becomes so angry that she resolves never to do business with you again. If the impatient customer is insistent, call up someone, even a presser, from the plant to help you out. This will give you the time needed to finish your transaction before attending to the next matter.
To solve this problem, make a rule: never let a customer interrupt the customer who is being waited on. Second, come up with some strategies to provide tools for the counter staffer facing this problem.
NOT MAKING EYE CONTACT
“Can I help you?” asks the counter staffer, an eye on the clock. She receives the order and inputs it in the computer. Without looking up, she asks, “Any special instructions?” The customer answers no, and the counter staffer hands over a slip and says, “Next.” In those three minutes, the counter staffer didn’t look the customer in the eye once. She couldn’t identify them in a lineup of one. Bad, bad, bad.
It is important to look directly at the customer and make regular eye contact to show that the transaction isn’t completely mechanical and that you realize that there’s a human being on the other side of the counter. Nobody likes to be thought of as just a number.
To improve this behavior, train your staff to look at customers when speaking to them. Suggest they improve their computer skills so that they can process orders while conversing with customers. When you role-play, observe that counter staffers do their share of making eye contact.
Solve these five problems, and you will go a long way to improving customer relations.