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Managing Multiple Customers

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 question.

    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 is good
      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 things worse
      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 customers.

    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 to wrap up.

    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 I 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 www.jeffmowatt.com.)

    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 services, visit www.jeffmowatt.com,  or call (800) JMowatt (566-9288). 


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