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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Hot Dog Stand – Customer Service?


At the game I went to the concession stand for some snacks and drinks, to be greeted by a long, slow-moving line. While the second quarter evaporated and the line inched forward, I looked at the hot dog stand operations to see why there was such a delay.

Here's some highlights:
  • 8 enthusiastic people - 5 at the counter and 3 doing prep in the back
  • the counter folks reminded me of a demolition derby, bumping each other and constantly crossing paths
  • the preparation folks were paying no attention - standing and talking
  • supplies (napkins, plasticware, cardboard trays) were on the right end of the counter but condiments were on the left end
  • the menu and prices were on a banner on the back wall of the stand
  • finally, the line was amorphous and confused, people lined up on a server but some also thought it was next available server

If a transaction takes an average of 4 minutes from order to payment per customer per server, a back-of-the-envelope calculation of service capacity is about 75 customers per hour. A person joining the end of this line at its peak can expect about an hour before heading back to the seat, partially due to the absence of training and flow.

From this experience, I saw several general guidelines for improving customer service, based on the pinch points and frustrations of the patrons at the hot dog stand. Consider these 5 items (the examples tie back to my quest of food and beverages):
  • inform the customer what you expect from them – in our example, how to navigate the line was unclear and the menu and prices were not visible until at the counter
  • design flow for efficiency – the servers bounced around to fulfill orders and customers had to cross the line and go to two locations for supplies and condiments
  • train staff on role and assignments – servers were swamped while preparers ignored the chaos while chatting – alternative roles for all staff are required for peak demand periods
  • manage customer perceptions – customers get angry while waiting when they see staff standing around - regardless of the reason
  • create as positive an experience as possible while addressing the customers' needssmile, be upbeat when serving the customer and remain focused on addressing the customers' need, NOT on why it can't be done.

It is not unusual to be too close to this issue to see the gaps and over-servicing areas clearly in your customer service operation – and an outside advisor will review and assess how things are actually done, not influenced by how insiders think things are being done.

Customers want to be heard and receive accurate, timely answers to their questions or concerns. Preferences aside, there are several channels to reach the customer – web site information, interactive topic search, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), employee blogging, telephone tree with simple questions answered by automated systems with an opt out for a real person who can do more than simply read the same web site screen to the caller. For the complex problems, one-on-one service by phone, in person, or by video call gets satisfying results.

The best approach to customer service is to put yourself in the customer's shoes and proceed the way YOU would like to be served.

Don't come to the game hungry is NOT a solution to the hot dog stand problem, even though you may see the second quarter.

Your thoughts?


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