A young chef and I were recently discussing how customers today can be prone to unmatchable expectations, because they have instant everything in so many arenas of their lives.
For example, the divergence between instant news —finding out about the pope's resignation within eight seconds of the event, on your cell phone–and the reality that a well-done steak takes 10 minutes on the grill, “makes guests expect me to magically cook the steak in half that time, which is literally impossible,” the young chef told me.
Hmm. What to do? While it’s no secret that customer expectations for speed have accelerated (almost daily, it seems), there are instances where you can’t increase your speed of customer service, your delivery of your product, the deliverables of the customer experience. The reality of such situations is that customer expectations have rushed ahead of what you, being a reality-based business, can provide.
So while generally my advice, as a customer service consultant, has been "get with the program already and meet these new customer expectations–before somebody else does!" there have to be exceptions.
Here's the approach I suggest when your business hits an immovable wall as far as time is concerned:
- Make sure the wall is really immovable. The chef’s example of a well-done steak taking as long as it takes is a good one. So is the wait at USAA Insurance (see below) when they are awaiting a grudging eventual response from an opposing insurance company.
If you can't go any faster…
- Make sure whenever possible you control/clarify customer expectations–and then match or beat those expectations
- Work on improving how the time spent waiting feels to your customers
Here are nine examples of making timeliness more closely match the expectations of customers–even when actual speed of service cannot be increased.
- Five Guys burgers actually take a while to cook, because they are from scratch and need to be cooked beyond the e coli stage, thank you very much. So Five Guys distracts customers with bags of peanuts—a filler for the hand, mouth, and eyes–during the cooked-from-scratch-burger wait.
- Ari Weinzweig, the gregarious co-founder of Zingerman’s Deli, kibitzes with and entertains the epically long line around his block every morning before they open, making the time there in Ann Arbor fly. As does the legendary Batali family here in Seattle, taking care of the epic lines outside their Salumi sausage boutique with fine cured-meat samples that almost make a longer line a better line.
- USAA Insurance's claims department offers an excellent online "my account" system that gives the customer (or in USAA terminology, the "member") a feeling of control while awaiting resolution of their claim: it lets you know the status 'round the clock so you know if the opposing driver's insurance company has responded, etc. rather than feeling like your concerns have fallen into a black hole.
- One of my favorite examples: Capella Hotels have no set check-in or checkout time; instead they contact their guests ahead of time and ask them when they want to check in and check out. As long as it's not more than the 21 or so hours that is the maximum if you consider housekeeping time, they accommodate the customer's wish as far as start and end times.
- Apple Stores allows you to schedule appointments, via the Apple Store app, so you get devoted, no-wait time even within their hectic retail environment.
- Virgin America doesn’t restrict passengers to set meal times. You can order (and pay for) food at any time during the flight other than takeoff, landing, and “unexpected turbulence.” Other airlines are starting to follow suit.
- In retail malls, buzzer-alert technology that allows you to shop throughout the mall without missing your turn in line at your original destination is an excellent innovation.
- In healthcare, Vocera technology and other solutions allow patients to summon a nurse without waiting for them to notice your light on.
- Forward-thinking restaurants are learning to use “lunch,” and “dinner” time slots as guidelines only, not discouraging patrons from coming in in between these periods nor restricting choices during them. Which is especially millennial-savvy (millennial-age customers choose to dine during off-peak hours twice as often as their elders) but has an appeal for almost any age group today, considering the varied schedules of customers today, in a world that is so different from the 9 to 5, rush hour-ruled, blue-lawed society of yesteryear.