As it appeared in the Daily Nation on March 22nd 2016
Customers hate to wait. They hate to wait for phones to be picked up, for emails to be responded to or for assistance to be received at a service point. Many grow impatient, they become edgy, and they start showing signs of disgruntlement. I have disconnected calls after waiting too long for next available representative even after being assured that my call was important to the organization. Many have driven off from petrol stations after waiting too long for staff to conclude an animated conversation. Others have walked out from one restaurant to the next after waiting too long for a waiter to recognize their presence. To a bank customer, 5 minutes waiting on a queue that is moving slowly because the tellers are few or are slow feels like 10 minutes. It is for this reason that Smart Companies need to continuously improve wait times and make it easier for their customers to reach them and to receive a service.
Looking back, an opportunity to work at a fast food that had a drive-through facility made me appreciate swift service. Within I minute of a customer placing the order, it was ready for pick up. Every end of day we reviewed wait times and celebrated on achieving the 60 seconds target. This was only possible through seamless coordination of the team especially the person taking the order and the team in the kitchen, for both, speed and accuracy was of essence. Preparations made at the start of the day and at the start of shift made this possible. Also, all processes involved were very clear e.g. the process of taking and confirming the order. Prior planning, seamless coordination and simple processes are critical in speeding up service.
Restaurants that are keen on speed allocate waiters specific tables and position then where they can promptly notice a new customer. Banks keen on reducing wait time prepare for peak periods like lunch hour, end month and back to school. Smart supermarkets prepare adequately for weekends and holiday stocking and cashiering. Airlines too know when to expect high traffic at the airports and prepare.
Speed can also be enhanced by allowing decision making at the frontline. In the February 2nd column I mentioned that policies offer predetermined answers to routine problems and help standardize many repetitive decisions. Ensuring that the company’s policies are clear, well understood and aimed at easing the customer processes goes a long way in speeding up service. Anytime a frontline staff has to consult or await a manager’s approval time is wasted. I have often witnessed slowing down of queues at our leading Supermarkets as cashiers wait for the supervisor to cancel a double entry. Why do the staff do not have the rights delete a double entry? Why is there no systematic way of signalling the supervisor? For example a blinking light and within seconds the supervisor is there when help was needed.
Are we really doing enough to speed up service? Does your organization prepare adequately to reduce customer wait times? Data from the past is useful, it can be used to estimate customer flow trends, identify peak periods and help prepare well in advance. Smart companies go to the extent of inviting customers to utilize their facilities during low period sometimes even at a discount.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy