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Customer Misperceptions: 3 Unfortunate Scenarios

Does your business or organization inadvertently create customer misperceptions of poor or mediocre customer service?

A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited a local franchise to order food to take home. When we entered the restaurant, we took our place in line behind two other customers. My wife knew the customer directly in front of us, who remarked that she had been waiting a long time. Indeed, there was only one worker behind the counter.

It then became clear why the customer ahead of us sounded frustrated: one of the booths in the public seating area was occupied by an employee who sat, doing nothing, while watching her coworker – the one and only employee behind the counter – struggling to prepare multiple orders on his own.

A few minutes later, more customers entered the restaurant, and the line lengthened. Meanwhile, the employee sat idly in the booth, watching her co-worker, who started becoming flustered and making mistakes.

When it was our turn to place our order, the worker behind the counter apologized profusely for the delay. At that time, the employee sitting in the booth stood up, walked behind the counter, and asked her overwhelmed co-worker, “What am I going to do with you?” Appearing embarrassed, the worker replied, “I don’t know. I’m pretty busy.”

Once my wife and I received our food and returned to the car, we expressed disbelief about the experience. I opined that the employee sitting in the booth was probably on break, while my wife thought that the employee was “just plain lazy.” It turned out that we were both wrong: we later discovered that the employee sitting in the booth was waiting to begin her shift.

And that brings me to my point. In customer service, perception is reality; in other words, the perception of customers matters, and it matters a lot. This means that businesses and organizations should train their employees to minimize the risk of inadvertently “sending the wrong message” to customers – that is, unintentionally creating customer misperceptions.

Here are three common situations that have the potential of creating customer misperceptions of mediocre or poor customer service.

Employees on Break or Waiting to Begin their Shifts. An employee who is on break or who is otherwise waiting to begin his or her shift should do so outside the presence of customers; otherwise, customers might mistakenly assume that an employee standing or sitting around “doing nothing” is “lazy.” In fact, your business or organization should have a well-defined process that identifies discreet locations for an employee to take his or her break or to wait for his or her shift to begin. Moreover, the process should be flexible enough to allow an employee to begin his or her shift early during especially busy times.

Employees Engaging in Irrelevant Conversations. Remember the scene in the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles wherein the rental car customer service agent is on the phone with her relative talking about Thanksgiving dinner while her customers wait in line? If you don’t, watch the first 30 seconds of the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsrXZ_Mdehw. Even though an employee might consider a conversation or a remark to be important to him or her (or to his or her coworker), remember that the key is how a customer – particularly a customer standing in line waiting for service – will perceive the conversation or remark. Simply put, an employee should conduct an “offline” conversation with a coworker or someone else outside the presence of customers.

e the presence of customers.

Employees on their Smartphones. An employee on his or her smartphone is never viewed favorably by customers, even though the employee might have a compelling reason to do so. If it is necessary for an employee to use his or her smartphone during work, he or she should do so outside the presence of customers; otherwise, customers might assume the employee is “playing around” on Snapchat or Facebook when he or she should be working.

During your next team meeting, invest a few moments discussing how customers might misperceive employee actions – regardless of how well-intended those actions might be – and address strategies to minimize the risks of customer misperceptions.

As always, have a “customerific” week!

Mark