Customer waiting time and queues are an arithmetic certainty of service delivery. In the real world, even when you have extra staff available just in case demand builds up, queues will occur. It’s normal for shoppers to arrive in bunches and not in a steady flow.
Well-planned and well-managed queues are a healthy thing. They indicate a vibrant business that is successfully controlling the cost of delivering service to its customers and at the same time managing shoppers’ perceptions of their wait.
Whether there are only two people waiting or 42, the right mathematical methodology has to be used to determine how to serve customers as efficiently as possible and how to allocate service fairly.
You can see the impact of a well-managed queue on the faces of the customers and servers. They are relaxed, unstressed. Waiting customers look around them and take an interest in merchandise. The store receives fewer complaints and suffers lower staff absenteeism. A business without queues is either overmanned or lacking customers – or worse, both.
Every store has a strategic decision to make. Is operating cost more important than customer service? Cutting costs can mean that customers wait longer. On the other hand, if stores decide that service times are more important to their brand proposition than cost or if they know that because of the nature of their business customers will be less tolerant of waiting times, they will ensure that fewer customers have to wait, but they will also increase the cost of their operation and risk more times when staff are standing idle.
This dilemma can be resolved through lean queue management. By making wait times more acceptable, and by organising service allocation systems they can help to lower costs and reduce waste in the process.
Research by Professor Edward Anderson, “A Note on Managing Waiting Lines,” has shown that queue times are affected by many factors:
The voice of “cashier number three please”, Terry Green is heard over 30 million times every month in post offices, shops and banks throughout the UK. His voice and ideas have transformed the way the world queues.
We asked, what percentage of our lives do we spend waiting? The answer is 17 per cent. Congratulations to Tim Latham and Clare Evans (who got the answer spot on) who both win a copy of Terry Green's book.
It’s time to book a holiday. You know where you’d like to go, when you can spare the time and the type of place you’d like to stay at.
So what’s the next step? If only you could get a bit more of an insight into the array of hotels on offer — find out what real people have had to say about the location, the facilities and exactly which sort of holidaymakers it could suit — before making your choice.
Of course, reviews of things like hotels, as well as bars and restaurants, are readily available online from a range of websites. But because consumers are now more than happy to include browsing through reviews before picking a business as part of the overall buying process, other sites have grown in popularity too.
It’s fair to say that, increasingly, businesses of all shapes and sizes — such as plumbers, double glazing installers and driving instructors — are being reviewed online. It’s becoming the norm.
Think of it as transporting your testimonials from behind the counter, where only people already through the door can see them, and making them visible to everyone.
In a nutshell, they are happening, people trust them and they can have a big impact on your business. But with a little understanding of just how good they can be for you, they can be overwhelmingly positive.
Time for some stats:
Yes! Encourage your satisfied customers to post reviews on websites because it will differentiate you from your competitors, help build trust and show that you are a real business doing real trade. Reviews are your positive word-of-mouth amplified.
Any business listed on Yell can be reviewed – take a look at Yell.com/reviews. To find out more, and to get some free promo materials to encourage people to rate you on the site, visit the reviews section of marketing.yell.com.
This post is the first of three on online reviews — stay tuned for the next update on managing negative reviews and how they can even be good for your business.
Paul Stamp is the community manager at Yell. For small business video guides, advice and information, follow @yellbusiness on Twitter.
Now and again at SellerDeck we get asked whether our ecommerce software includes functionality to support a loyalty scheme. The answer is no, and there are very good reasons why we have not developed it. I thought the rationale would be worth sharing more widely. If you’re considering developing a loyalty for your own site, it might just persuade you otherwise.
Firstly, loyalty schemes don’t produce loyalty. Most people have multiple loyalty cards, and use them promiscuously. The level of reward — usually about one per cent — is pretty minimal. One special offer can save more money than the loyalty points on your entire weekly shop. So people take advantage of the schemes because they are free and painless to use. But they don’t influence where people shop on any given occasion.
Consequently, the term loyalty is a really misnomer. If loyalty is what you’re looking for, a loyalty scheme won’t deliver that.
The main advantage of loyalty schemes to the large chains is in the data they make available. Every time you present a reward card you identify yourself personally at the checkout. This enables the company to track a huge range of data, both for individuals, and for particular demographics. Your supermarket knows how often you shop, and where. It knows your average weekly spend. It knows your family diet, what items you purchase regularly, and how often. In consumables and FMCG, this enables large companies to follow market trends very closely, react to changes quickly, and target their merchandising according to local and temporal preferences and trends.
That’s great if you are a large chain with multiple branches, a website and maybe a mail order channel as well. If all you have is a website, it’s pointless. You can already identify regular customers from your orders database, and mine the same kind of data directly from that.
So given that a loyalty scheme doesn’t deliver loyalty, costs time and money to operate and doesn’t give you anything that you don’t already have – doesn’t it start to look like one huge white elephant in the room?
Read more in our dedicated section on customer loyalty.
Many businesses have rigidly defined the respective roles and responsibilities of their customer service and marketing departments. This is often the source of frustrations as, on one hand, the marketing guys do not have the opportunity to interact with the customers and, on the other hand, the customer service team has only a limited opportunity to influence product design and communication.
Small businesses have much more room for manoeuvre, as they can chop and change, test and experiment without affecting a large volume of customers. Very frequently, small companies manage their customers through a single channel, handling social interactions, marketing efforts, customer service and many other activities in one place. They use mishaps as a marketing opportunity and dispatch little gifts and samples to “compensate” customers. Customer service is clearly being used as a marketing tool.
Whilst larger operators are busy leveraging their social media reach by pushing multitudes of promotions, special offers, coupons, vouchers and deals, small businesses can build a long-term advantage by establishing close-knit communities of customers. Positioning customer service at the heart of the marketing strategy contributes to the exchange of ideas and the resolution of problems whilst creating a platform for future recommendations.
All this contributes to the development of a very strong sense of loyalty.
The challenge comes when the business grows and someone makes the suggestion that life would be much easier if dedicated marketing and customer service teams were established…it will be hard but just make sure you resist the temptation.
Guest blog by Very Good Service.
Read more in our dedicated section about customer service.
If there is a fairy godmother in charge of shopping I hope she is listening.
I hope she takes online and high street retailers to one side and says, “Look, your brain does something funny when you go to work, don't you realise what the world is like for customers?”.
I hope she sprinkles them with her fairy dust so they listen when we tell them about the hundreds of little opportunities to sell that they miss every single trading day.
Show people where to go as soon as they start to shop. When they get to your products make the descriptions, sizes and prices easy to read. Remember that customers have criteria — if you understand how customers are deciding what to buy, then you have more chance of selling to them.
Test out a customer's “journey” around your store — or ecommerce website — and look at how their needs and criteria change. Clearly signpost changing rooms and cash registers from different directions so that the customer knows where to go. If you use mannequins to highlight outfits, put the products right by them, clearly marked. Make sure packaging clearly and easily communicates what’s inside.
If customers have a need now, why not satisfy it? If your processes are fixed to a strict schedule of seasonal buying, you’re at the mercy of the weather making your customers want to buy something that you don’t have. Don’t apply fashion season rules to non-fashion basics; if this happens in your store, ask your customers if it suits them — if it doesn’t, change it.
Don’t spend any time or money offering things to customers who cannot buy them. Don’t put any barriers in front of customers with money. Arrange sale clothing by size, not price — during a sale we always need to know what size a garment is and never how much it costs (it’s already in the sale).
If customers have given their contact details to you once, it should be possible to buy from you without having to give them again. When customers do make an enquiry, make it easy for them to progress this to a purchase. Follow up enquiries that haven’t led to a sale and find out why. Knowing why someone hasn’t bought from you is just as important as knowing why they have.
Don’t confuse information with knowledge — having broad market research to hand isn’t the same as understanding the people who buy from you. Think like a customer not a manager, you can't afford to ignore any incremental benefits to your bottom line.
Lynn Allison FCIM, Chartered Marketer is the author of Catching the Chameleon, published by Ecademy Press.
Thank you for all your great retail tips and comments on Lynn's blog. And congratulations to Craig Dearden, Tim Shapcott and Bronwyn Durand who all win a copy of Lynn's book, Catching the Chameleon.
I have been thinking about the brands we love and how to improve customer retention. Let me tell you a couple of stories.
Three years ago, I took delivery of a car and on the way home it literally died. I did not see the car again for four months. However, the gentleman who looked after my “case” was exceptional. He updated me regularly, kept me totally informed on progress and made a bad situation OK. The car firm also sent me a range of well thought-out sorry gifts that were actually appropriate and of suitable value. I am now very loyal to this brand and I have a good opinion of them.
The other day, my wife and I were chatting about Clark Plc expenditure. We had decided to tighten the belt in a few areas and Sky TV was first on the list. With three kids of different ages, all of us have different viewing requirements ranging from football, Disney and South Park to Grey’s Anatomy. We currently have the full Sky package. It was going to be challenging to cut back.
In fact, my wife had a very, very good experience with Sky TV. The man on the phone listened and came up with a superb idea that was appropriate to the situation and our request. It was surprising and well delivered. To be frank I think we were expecting a bit of a challenge. It was the opposite. So now I have a great opinion of Sky, Clark Plc has the viewing requirements sorted and I will tell people about the positive experience.
So this got me thinking about two things: why we become loyal to certain brands and how businesses can improve customer retention.
In order to establish a loyalty scheme of any kind we need to establish who it is we actually want to reward and what it is we want to reward them for. If our most valuable customers are 100 per cent loyal to us then do we give them rewards just for being there, or do we concentrate on making the less valuable customers more valuable? We must ensure that we are adding value to our business and not simply creating a discount scheme.
Defining our objectives needs to be the first step – are we looking to reward behaviours that are good for our business, such as a customer spending more within a certain time frame, for instance?
We then need to understand our audience segments. Customers are all different and treating them as one entity means that we may be missing the main motivational factors for some of them.
After we have segmented the audience we need to look at who is the most valuable to us and why – is it the segment that makes up the highest proportion of our base? Those who spend the most? Those who are the least hassle? Or those who we feel we might be in danger of losing soon? How do these customers stack up against our objectives?
Having understood who our customers are, we need to understand their motivations – this allows us to be relevant. What do they value most?
We are a business, so we also need to understand our own motivations – what would we like our customers to do? Spend more? Stay with us long-term? Again, we need to look at this against our objectives.
Adding all this up we can see who we should be targeting, what we want to encourage them to do and what is going to motivate them. Our aim is to identify positive behaviours we want to reward and habits we can seek to change in order to make our business more profitable.
In an environment where winning new customers will get harder, it is more vital then ever before that we cherish our current customers. Some are happy, some are apathetic and some may be disappointed. As spring approaches it would be wise to look over your customer base and reward them, tackling any issues with empathy and understanding. We do long for loyalty from them; let’s give them some reasons to love us and importantly to tell their friends and associates about the great experience they have had with you.