Hurry Up and Wait
Recently, I walked over to my bank for what I hoped would be a quick transaction, and felt I was in luck as one of the five tellers had only one person in her line, while the others all had two or three. So I headed for that teller. Big mistake. The customer being helped obviously had some sort of problem, and the teller moved back and forth taking care of it. And of course, I was afraid to change lines, for fear of getting in an even slower one. As I have so many times before, I wondered why this bank doesn’t have the more customer-friendly system of “next available teller” queuing. This time I decided to seek out the manager. I was not surprised to hear he was busy, and could I wait? Another waste of my time. When I did give him my suggestion, he listened, then started explaining why this system would not work in this bank. “Not enough space.” (Ridiculous, since the weaving of horizontal queuing takes little space.) “We don’t want to be like a fast food operation.” (Why not, if “fast” is the result; isn’t “fast” good?) I decided the bank manager, like so many other managements, just doesn’t get it.
A company’s call processor that saves a bit on labor costs forces the customer to sit through a very tedious telephone menu, finger at the ready in hopes of maybe hearing the option that will get them to the help they need, and a real, live person to talk to. “If you are calling to place an order…if you are calling to inquire about an order…if you are calling about a problem with your bill…if you are calling to locate a store nearest you…if you are calling about store hours…if you know your party’s extension…” Enough! Can a company ever profit enough to justify wasting a customer’s time, and sending him in to fury? Don’t they get it?
That long check-in line at the airport; the wait at the baggage claim; the utility serviceman who wants a three-hour window for appointments; the sofa delivery from the furniture company; the doctor who has patients stacked up in rooms, undressed, while he sees others; the wait for the insurance reimbursement. What’s going on?
What is becoming obvious is that while businesses are devising all sort of ways to save company time and money, it generally is at the expense of the customer. Amazing technology has been devised to speed things up, yet maybe that’s the very reason many businesses have gone in the opposite direction in their dealings with their customers. Probably the cost cutters can tell down to the minute, even the second, what it costs the company to handle various transactions. They have multiplied the time it takes to complete a given transaction by the average pay of an employee for the corresponding time, added the number of times that transaction is performed, and come up with the cost. And if they can cut out an employee involvement in that transaction, or better yet, eliminate the transaction altogether, well, there’s the saving. But who is calculating the value of the customer’s time and involvement? How did we get to the point where the company’s time is more valuable than the customer’s?
You may feel that you never waste your customer’s time. Consider this: do you ever advertise an item, then have a customer come in to see it, only to be told it is sold out? Did you waste her time, because you elected to be conservative and place a too-small order, rather than risk having any merchandise left after the promotion? And consider this: you don’t like to buy a full range of sizes, so skip a few in each style. You have put this new style on display in your store, and the customer loves it. You didn’t buy her size. “But we can special order it for you.” Is that not a waste of her time?
And consider this: a customer calls your company on what turns out to be after hours. The phone rings and rings. Finally, he hangs up. Well, whatever he wanted, he will just have to call back tomorrow. Didn’t you just waste his time? Should you have automatic answering after hours, directing the customer where to call or to leave a message you will pick up first thing in the morning and respond? Don’t you get it?
The following examples are two companies I know that really do value their customer’s time; in short, they do get it. Unfortunately, they are not in the business world, but in the medical industry, of all things.
Dr. Winters is an orthopedist. When a patient calls to speak to him, they are told (unless it is an emergency) that Dr. Winters will return all calls between 4 and 6 PM that same day. And that is precisely the time the call will be returned. The patient now knows not to sit at home all day waiting for a call. And Dr. Winters will personally speak with you; it will not be his nurse, responding that “Dr. Winters said to tell you…” Dr. Winters doesn’t want his time wasted, and he values his patients enough not to waste their time. If you are not at home between 4 and 6 PM, he won’t try again.
Dr. Marks, a throat doctor, has an after-hours answering machine that directs the patient to leave a message (unless an emergency), and if requesting an appointment, to state the preferred date and time. The patient is told the call will be returned when the staff gets in at 9 the next morning. I tested this out one night, and figured the call would not be returned, but before I could get to them at 9:15 the next morning, they responded to my message. Amazing.
Customers know when they are valued. And they know when you have transferred a company expense onto them. It is a message you send in a myriad of ways. What messages are your customers picking up?
Liz Tahir is an international marketing consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, whose mission is to help companies be more effective and profitable. Based in New Orleans, LA, USA, she can be contacted at (504)-569-1670; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.liztahir.com .
Many more articles in Customer Service in The CEO Refresher Archives