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Challenges In The Service Industry

Question:

I make my customers beautiful. They come in, sit in my chair and before they walk out my salon door they have great hair. I love my job and give my customers the very best service I can.

Some make it very hard.

I run on a tight schedule so I can accommodate all the customers who want to get in and maintain reasonable prices. I take my customers’ time commitments seriously and try not to keep anyone waiting. Some customers, however, come 15 to 30 minutes late and still expect me to “work them in.” Even though I leave a window of time between customers, if I’ve scheduled one for a 45-minute session and she’s more than fifteen minutes late, it means that no matter how I much I rush I keep the next customer waiting. Often, I do say “I’ll work you in, but I’ll need to alternate between you and the next customer.” The last time I did this, the woman who came 30 minutes late shot daggers at me each time I worked on the customer who’d come on time for her appointment. At the end, when I was about to blow-dry her she said in a loud voice, “I can’t afford the time, I’m quite late now.” The alternative, of course, is to say, “you’re too late, I just can’t fit you in,” but that guarantees the late customer walks out the door and doesn’t come back.

Worst are the cell phone customers who do business the entire time they’re in the chair. I work around them but have you ever tried to blow dry someone’s hair when she’s angling away from the blow dryer so she can continue a phone call? I can set the blow dryer aside and wait, but then we run late and I’m caught in the same time jam. I wouldn’t mind it if the calls were occasional or emergencies but some customers pull out their cell phone the moment they sit down and are on it the whole time, forcing me to cut and style around the phone, all of which adds a surprising amount of extra time to the appointment.

How can I get my customers to take their appointment time and my work seriously?

Answer:

When you’re in the service business, you serve at the whims of customers -- to the degree you allow.

If a customer arrives late, you have a choice. If she’s less than fifteen minutes late and you allow a ten-minute window between customers, simply move quicker than usual. If, however, she’s twenty or more minutes late, give her two options. Let her know that your schedule allows a ten minute “cushion” between customers and that you want to give her truly quality service and thus she might want to reschedule as you will have to shortcut her service to get her out on time.

Let her know that if she wants to stay, you’ll start on her promptly and work on her as quickly as possible but that once the next customer comes, you can keep that customer waiting at most six or seven minutes and then will have to honor that customer’s appointment time. Add that you’ll still do your best to totally take care of her but that you may need to finish her up in the windows of time when the other customer doesn’t need your direct contact. By giving her a choice to reschedule or be “juggled,” you maintain goodwill and make your point – twenty minutes late doesn’t work.

When you take care of cell phone multi-taskers, use your two best weapons – their time and the service they came for. Because the cell phone user doesn’t realize it takes you longer to work on her when you have to work around the phone, you can occasionally move away saying, “I’ll wait ‘til you’re done so I can get the cut right.” By politely signaling the cell phone usage costs both of you time, you get through to most users. For those who don’t get the point, however, and even angle away from the blow dryer, turn the dryer on “high” and smile and style.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at lynne@thegrowthcompany.com

You can follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10 or through www.workplacecoachblog.com

© Lynne Curry, March 2013, www.thegrowthcompany.com

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