Five tips for juggling
customers, callers and walk-ins.
by Jeff Mowatt
You know the scenario: Your workday is running smoothly and manageably
when suddenly you find yourself dealing with one customer in front of
you and another on the phone while a third arrives with just a quick
In my customer service seminars, this is one of the
most frequent challenges employees ask me to address. While there are no
absolute rules for juggling customers (you need to adapt to your
workplace’s business realities), here are five tips that work well in
reducing stress and boosting customer loyalty.
tip 1: remember, this
Having lots of customers wanting to do business with you is wonderful.
It means you are in demand. The obvious solution to juggling multiple
customers is 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 the 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 L.L. Bean,
who said, “Customers are not interruptions to your work; they are the
purpose of your work.”
tip 2: don’t make
One of the most frequent customer service gaffs 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
When you’re on the floor, make yourself visible and
available to customers. Of course, that also means not interrupting
co-workers who are talking to customers. If you need to talk to a
co-worker who’s taking care of a customer, give your colleague a quick
nod, then let him/her come to you when he/she has 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 his/her patience.
tip 3: walk-ins take
priority over phone-ins
If you already have a customer in front of you when the phone rings,
that customer gets priority. The in-store customer took the time/spent
the gas money to arrive in person. Unless you have callers with genuine
emergencies, don’t interrupt an in-store customer to answer the phone.
That’s what voice mail is for.
If you must take the phone call, ask the in-store
customer’s permission, explain that you want to focus on him/her, 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
his/her request and call him/her back. That way, even if the caller
insists on immediate service, the in-store customer sees that you are at
least trying to make him/her the priority.
tip 4: acknowledge
walk-ins right away
If you are on the phone or face-to-face with a customer when another
customer walks-in, acknowledge that customer 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 customer, you are
conveying that you are aware of him/her and that you are working
quickly. And it tells the person in front of you that you have other
people waiting. Usually, that customer will get the hint that you need
A common challenge is how to politely interrupt a phone
caller to acknowledge a walk-in customer. Here’s a quick tip: Say to the
phone customer, “John, excuse me. I just had someone walk in. May if put
you on hold for a moment? Thanks.” Beginning with the person’s name gets
his/her attention immediately without being rude.
For new arrivals who have just a quick question—as long
as the question is indeed quick—give them the 10 seconds they need, then
get back to your first customer. If it’s going to take more than 10
seconds, 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 browse, 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, if customers constantly get the impression that your
business is disorganized, understaffed or uncaring about their time,
that’s a problem that requires more than just having staff work faster.
Owners/managers need to hire more staff, consider
moving phone calls to a call center or implement line-management
practices. (Speaking of which, you’ll find tips on handling waiting
lines in my article, “Yes, I Mind Waiting,” available free at
Meanwhile, be thankful that business is so good. Here’s
hoping that this helps makes managing multiple customers less
frustrating for everyone concerned.
Jeff Mowatt is a customer service strategist and business strategist,
consultant, international speaker and author. This article is based on
his best-selling book, Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month. To
obtain a copy of this book or to inquire about engaging Mr. Mowatt’s
, or call (800) JMowatt (566-9288).