Monday, November 15, 2010

Customers vs. Tasks: Stop Ignoring Me!

How many times have we waited in line at a retail establishment, while one or more employees perform some task rather than helping out a customer? The "focus on tasks, not customers" problem proves pervasive. On Sunday morning, I watched in amazement as an employee stood, with their head down buried in some paperwork, while a long line built at an allegedly "fast casual" restaurant. Her poor co-worker tried to handle the onslaught of customers, but she surely could have used some help from her colleague.

Now, retailers and restaurants clearly need employees to perform crucial tasks in order to ultimately provide customers the products and services that they desire. However, all too often, employees prioritize the task ahead of customers when they need not do so. Sometimes, the task simply must be performed before the associate can help out any more customers. What should happen then? A simple acknowledgment of the waiting customers would be helpful. That did not happen on Sunday morning. The associate simply should say: "Good morning, folks. I will be right with you. I have to complete this task in order to provide you the exceptional service that you expect. I promise that it won't be more than a few moments." Alternatively, the associate could call on one of their other co-workers to come assist with the waiting customers.

Firms should take notice. For a variety of reasons, associates seem to fixate on prioritizing tasks ahead of customers at times. Firms need to train associates more effectively in how to handle these situations, when conflicting demands fall upon them.

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