Bakers Journal

Five tips for managing multiple customers

May 11, 2014
By Jeff Mowatt

May 12, 2014 – You know the scenario . . . your workday is running
smoothly when suddenly you find yourself dealing with one customer in
front of you, another on the phone, while a third arrives with just a
question. Here are five tips that may reduce stress and boost customer

May 12, 2014 – You know the scenario . . . your workday is running
smoothly when suddenly you find yourself dealing with one customer in
front of you, another on the phone, while a third arrives with just a
question. When organizations bring me in to conduct customer-service
I find this is one of the most frequent challenges frontline employees
ask me
to address. While there are no absolute rules for juggling customers
(you need
to adapt to the realities of your business) here are five tips that we
find work well for our clients in reducing stress and boosting customer

Tip No. 1: Remember, this is good

Having lots of customers wanting to do business with you is
wonderful. It means you and your organization are in demand. The obvious
solution to juggling multiple customers is to hire more people. Of course, that’s
oversimplified and may make no economic sense – especially when there may be
only one or two rush periods during the day or week. When you see more
customers arrive, don't let them see you sweat. Take the professional approach
and broaden your smile even though it may be slightly forced. Keep in mind the
adage of LL Bean, who said, “Customers are not interruptions to your work; they
are the purpose of your work.”

Tip No. 2: Don’t make things worse

One of the most frequent gaffs in frontline service is when
a customer needs to ask a question but the employees are preoccupied – talking
with each other. Even more aggravating is when the staff congregates to
socialize while customers are left to fend for themselves. The place for
employees to chat and hold meetings is in the staff area; not in front of
customers. When you’re on the floor, make yourself visible and available to
customers. Of course, that also means not interrupting your co-workers who are
talking to customers. If you need to talk to a co-worker who's taking care of a
customer, give your colleague a quick nod, then let him or her come to you when
they’ve finished with the customer. If you absolutely must interrupt, then
excuse yourself and apologize to the customer for the interruption, and as you
leave, thank the customer for their patience.

Tip No. 3: Walk-ins take priority over phone-ins

If you already have a visitor in front of you when the phone
rings, the visitor gets priority. The visitor took the time/spent the gas money
to arrive in person. Unless you have callers with genuine emergencies, don't
interrupt a visitor to pick up the phone. That’s what voicemail is for. If you
must take the phone call, ask the visitor's permission, explain that you want
to focus on them, so you’ll quickly take a message and get back to your
conversation. Then tell the caller that you are with another customer but will
look into their request and call them back. That way, even if the caller insists
on immediate service, the visitor sees that you are at least trying to make
them the priority. 

Tip No 4: Acknowledge walk-ins right away

If you are on the phone or face to face with a customer when
a visitor walks in, acknowledge the visitor immediately with eye contact, a
smile and a quick “I'll be with you in just a few minutes (or however long it
will be).” By acknowledging the visitor, you are conveying that you are aware
of them and that you are working quickly. And it tells the person in front of you
that you have other people waiting. Usually, they'll get the hint that you need
to wrap up.

A common challenge is how to politely interrupt a phone
caller to acknowledge a walk-in visitor. Here’s a quick tip: say the person’s
name. “John, excuse me. I just had someone walk into my office. May I put you
on hold for a moment? Thanks.” Beginning with the person’s name gets their
attention immediately without being rude.

For new arrivals who have just a quick question . . . if it
is indeed quick, that’s great; give them the 10 seconds they need and then get
back your first person. If it’s going to take more than 10 seconds, then tell
the person, “That’s going to take a few minutes to go over, so I’ll finish
taking care of this person, which will take me about x minutes, then I’ll be
happy to help you. Meanwhile, if you’d like to sit, grab a coffee . . . Thanks.”

Tip No. 5: Address chronic staffing/line management issues

In tip No. 1, I pointed out that hiring more staff may not
make economic sense. However, when customers constantly get the impression the business
is disorganized, understaffed or uncaring about customers’ time, that’s a
problem that requires more than just having staff work faster. Managers need to
hire more staff, consider moving phone calls to a call centre or implement line
management practices. Speaking of which, you’ll find tips on handling waiting
lines by clicking on my related article, “Yes, I Mind Waiting.”

Meanwhile, be thankful that business is so good. Here’s
hoping that this helps make managing multiple customers less frustrating for
everyone concerned.

This article is based
on the critically acclaimed book
Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a
Month by customer service strategist and
professional speaker Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to
inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit or call 1-800-JMowatt

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