Balancing friendliness with efficiency

I stood in line today watching two clerks helping customers. There were five people in front of me and ten behind me. The clerks seemed to have molasses in their veins.

As they chit-chatted with the customers, I noted that normally I’d think they were being friendly. But they weren’t working while they chatted and if the customer was filling out a form, the chatting took him/her away from the task, so it took much longer than needed for the line to move.

You might have guessed — this was at the Post Office. The USPS used to be an easy source of customer service horror stories. Then they cleaned up their act for a while. Now, their service seems to have slip again — at least at the branches I frequent. I know some are stellar — it is so dependent on the management and the employees.

I watched in astonishment as the woman clerk helped a woman customer. She explained in detail the purchase options, rather than just asking the customer what kind of delivery she wanted. The woman had to readdress an envelope before the clerk could ring her up. Instead of suggesting the customer step aside so the next customer could be helped, the clerk started tidying her work space, taking boxes into another room disappearing for what seemed like forever. She seemed oblivious to the line line in front of her. She could have easily helped the customer in front of me, and probably me as well, all before the first customer was ready.

But she didn’t.

So I waited an extra 10 minutes in an already rushed day. I’m guessing the person at the end of the line waited an extra 30.

I thought, “If these clerks were compensated by the number of customers served, rather than a flat salary, they’d find ways to be more efficient.” Of course, some companies have found that when speed is the only metric, friendliness suffers.

Which is why many for-profit retailers measure their employees’ effectiveness by not only quantity (average sales per shift/customer/employee) but also by customer service scores, often determined by secret shopper services. So a clerk can’t get away with being surly while efficient, nor friendly while slothful, they have to be both friendly and efficient. One can be both simultaneously.

The Postal Service is no longer a monopoly, yet they act like we have no other options. While their clerks are pleasant, they also need to be efficient. In this economy with so many excellent people looking for work, there is really no excuse for tolerating mediocre or bad service. So when you have a choice between two companies and one seems to really focus on the customer and one seems to be just slogging along without much concern for the customer, I hope you’ll chose the former.

Questions for you:

  • Does your organization act like a monopoly when it’s not, ignoring efficiently and pleasantly helping your customers?
  • Have you watched your staff lately to make sure they are processing each transaction as quickly as possible, coupled with friendliness?
  • How could you encourage your staff to speed up their customer transactions while still maintaining a pleasant demeanor?


Remarkable Customer Service...And Disservice
Remarkable Customer Service...And Disservice

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