Every minute counts when it comes to the customer experience for your small business. We also know that every dollar counts when it comes to your business budget. However, due to the ongoing pandemic and recent labor shortage, many businesses are trying to keep up with the customer demand with less staff on hand.
Balancing customer experience against your budget is a difficult task. You need the right amount of staff working to keep customers happy, but not so many people that workers are standing around looking for things to do.
If your customers have long wait times, that’s good news for you initially—it means your business is popular. The bad news is customers won’t wait around forever for you to fix your time management issues. If they like your goods or services, they’ll be a bit forgiving, but too many long waits will send them to your competition.
If you need to manage customer wait times without hiring more people, here are four ideas that can help you.
1. Encourage customers to come in at quiet times.
Every business has busy times and slow times. One way to lessen wait times is to shift customers from the busy periods to the slower ones. Offer incentives for coming in during quiet hours. For example, you could offer 10% off for customers who come in between 11 and 1, if that’s your quiet time.
Some retail establishments even encourage customers to schedule an appointment to come in, rather than just walking in. This can also help you manage customer flow and shift people to less busy times.
2. Have a separate stand for complicated transactions.
Complicated transactions take more time, and they force your other customers to wait longer for service. Have a special station where returns are taken, online purchases are picked up or loyalty program sign-ups are processed, for example. These transactions are not only more complex, they happen less frequently so moving them out of the regular line doesn’t add significant work to your staff, but decreases customer wait times overall.
3. Streamline the queue.
See if there are ways to streamline your queue, so customers aren’t waiting a long time to be helped by one person. For example, you could have one employee greeting people, another asking if they need help, and someone else ringing up the purchase. Or you could have mobile point of sale software that allows your staff to help customers anywhere they are—inside or outside the store. Point of sale (POS) software enables staff to search information, find items, close transactions, accept payments and even print receipts, saving your customers from long waits in line.
You can even invest in technology, so customers can check-in with you online before coming to your business. Their wait time overall may still be the same, but they’ll spend part of it at home, so it won’t feel as long to them.
4. Under promise and over deliver.
At some point, your business will be so busy that customers will be stuck waiting for service. In those cases, under promise and over deliver. If you know something will take 3 hours, tell the customer it will take 4 hours. Customers are happier if something takes less time than expected than if it takes more.
This tactic also buys you time in case of unexpected delays. The worst thing in this situation is that you have to repeatedly tell customers their wait will be longer. That frustrates them and makes them less likely to come back.
Line-ups and wait times are inevitable, but they don’t necessarily mean you need more employees. There are solutions available to you that enhance the customer experience without you hiring more people.