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Acknowledging Customers is First Step of Great Service

Wait and see.Image via Wikipedia

I stood at the customer service counter at Target the other day. It was mid-afternoon and there were few customers in the store. I had a small item to return. The lone representative behind the counter was working with a customer who had some kind of complicated issue. It was taking a while. I get it. Some issues take longer to resolve than others.

What I found interesting, as I stood and observed the transaction taking place five feet in front of me, was that the rep behind the counter did not look my way once. Had the rep and customer been in a constant conversation about the issue at hand, it would have made sense. In this case, however, the rep had a lot of time of standing there waiting for the customer at the counter to write out information on a slip of paper. It was only after the transaction was complete, minutes later, that the rep looked over at me and said, "May I help you?" - as if I had magically appeared in line.

We're a time sensitive culture. Technology has driven us to expect things faster, easier and quicker. Customers get impatient. Even though, as a customer service professional, I was well aware that I would have to wait in queue, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated. It struck me that I simply wanted to be acknowledged.

"Good afternoon, sir," I wanted to hear from the rep with a smile. "Sorry for the wait. I'll be right with you."

By the time that the rep finally acknowledged my presence, I was already experiencing increased frustration with the situation. I'm constantly telling customer service representatives that with each customer transaction, the customer walks away with a judgment about the experience and the company they represent. In this case, my experience did not start when I walked up to the counter, but while I stood waiting in line. By the time it was "my turn," my satisfaction was already diminished.

In most business-to-consumer retail experiences, you will have times when customers wait in queue. The simple act of making eye contact, providing a smile and offering a kind word of greeting can set you up for a positive customer experience. At the very least, it can help minimize or diminish the prospect of the waiting customer penalizing you with decreased levels of satisfaction.

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I had a similar experience today at the copy counter at Office Max on Ingersoll. However, the clerk did look my way during the long conversation she was having with the person she was helping. I have to admit, it made me feel more like staying and waiting!

Hey Tom! Great post. This is a matter of training, plain and simple. In this case, the clerk's loyalty is divided between providing caring, attentive service to the current customer and his/her anxiety of seeing a line of people staring at them while they deal with the current person. I've been in that situation before, from all three perspectives. Good training will instruct the clerk to acknowledge those in line, because the person she's waiting on will not mind. After all, they've also been in that situation. When I worked at the HyVee courtesy counter, that was the first thing we learned. Acknowledge and say hello to everyone in line, no matter how busy we were. Sometimes it even gets the others talking in line, distracting them from how long they are waiting by engaging in pleasant banter. This post certainly reminded me of the good folks that used to work at the Park Ave. HyVee in the early 1980s.

Great story and so true, it also makes a difference in how the customer is treated that is being waited on while you are waiting. The majority of customers want to be treated with integrity and respect, even if they are wrong. Take the time explain the situation honestly, present facts, and be compassionate. Next time around it could be you on the other side of the counter.

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