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S.O.S. (Speed of Service, that is)

As I write this I am flying out of one of my favorite central Florida airports and attempting to grab a bite to eat prior to departure. I am standing in a packed food court with guest tempers running as high as a Florida July and lamenting that is doesn’t have to be this way.

Speed of service has become a priority tor our guests and the stakes become higher each day.

From digital natives who are easily bored to time crunched customers who value time more than almost anything else, there is a lot riding on the ability to take care of customers in an efficient and friendly way.

Here are some thoughts around the conundrum of speed of service. There is a reason why I tend to abbreviate it as SOS - because customers are nearly desperate for you to help mitigate their time-starved days.

Remember, customization is no excuse for slow service times. Brands like Subway and Chipotle forever changed the landscape of personalized dining experiences. In fact, consumers want choice in all aspects of their lives, not just food. I was at the new Star Wars Galaxy's Edge opening last month at Walt Disney World, and they had an entire experience around customizing your own light saber. That said, you cannot let personalization drag down speed of service.

Are you talking your customers through the process? When customers experience something new or that has a lot of moving parts, it is easy for them to become overwhelmed. I was checking in on American Airlines last week and there was a bit of a logjam at the check in kiosks. The one thing that kept the lines moving were the customer service agents moving from guest to guest asking them if they needed help checking in and talking the rookies through the process. Also think about the last time you went to Subway and they talked you through making your sandwich. Same principle and it works anytime a customer must complete a process.

Does your team understand that speed matters? Often when I work with organizations, it becomes clear they have never communicated the need for speed with their teams. Have you ever encountered a business with no high gear? It's frustrating as you wait for you turn in line or your message to be answered. Your team needs to understand that today's customers see time as a form of currency that they can bank and use for other things they'd rather do. Of course you want to ensure that each customer gets the appropriate time with your service agents and associates, but ensure that your team knows that urgency matters when it comes to service. The key is to never make a guest feel rushed. The other key to be clear that safety must never be marginalized or ignored for the sake of speed. Your customers may forgive a slow service moment, but they will not overlook a safety issue.

Ask this: Is your equipped to handle your volume? Often times a core reason that service speed suffers is that team members don't prioritize people. But it is also a good idea to evaluate work flow versus resources. As companies have slimmed their work force, come to rely on chatbots, or automated service, sometimes there is not enough bandwidth to make service come to life. So while it's easy to say that your team should buckle down on those email or call return times, there is always the possibility that you have "right sized" your workforce to shamefully low levels. Whether you are staffing a kitchen in a restaurant, call center at an online retailer, or tellers at a bank, you must analyze your peak periods and match manpower to demand.

It becomes easy to look to just one reason why speed of service is suffering, but often it may be combination of items.

You could find that your team is short-staffed, but also that they are wasting time on low value tasks, thus pushing important customer contact items off their priority list. Look at the entire customer experience and determine where you can trim time and effort.

Bonus Tip: Don't jump right to technology solutions. There is a propensity in the service universe today to add tech enhancements to "improve" efficiency and speed, but often if there is an underlying executional issue (out of stocks, call offs, poor training), then it will simply exacerbate the situation.

Remember, time is money as they say and your customers expect you to respect it and help them make the most of it.

Thanks for keeping your customers at the center of everything you do.


Tony Johnson, CCXP Customer Experience (CX) Leader | Author | Speaker

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