Is “Gluten Free” a New Element of Customer Service?

At first I thought there would be only a special few in certain industries who might need to pay attention to the rising interest in “gluten free”. However, I’ve now realized first hand that this gluten-free fad might not be going away and a lot of industries should pay attention.

It all started after someone told me to try going gluten free to see if I felt better. I said, “No way – I love my bread too much.” Although I felt I had no need, I thought, “Okay, everyone is doing it.” And with seeing the book “Wheat Belly” in every airport, I thought, there must be something to this; I’d tried most every other fad diet – why not this one?

Lo and behold: three days of going with no gluten and my stomach went flat. I was not considered “overweight” either, but in six weeks of gluten-free eating, I lost seven pounds without really trying.

I do work out about three times a week and thought I was pretty healthy – just trying to ward off bone loss and the enjoy some other benefits – but all of sudden I increased my weights and could really pump it on the elliptical without much effort. In addition, I felt no more 3:00 PM need to reach for something (usually coffee). My head was clear, my stomach was flat, and I’d lost weight. Then someone said, “You should not be feeling this good – you should go get tested for celiac.” I replied, “I have no symptoms, I don’t have that!!”

The next time I waited for a prescription, I asked my doctor what I needed to do to get tested for celiac. He said, “Oh that is simple: it is just a simple blood test; it is only around $50 now versus a $5,000 endoscopy (the test where you swallow the camera). We send everyone now. We only used to send the worst cases as a last resort.” Four days later my test came back: I was celiac! That meant no gluten for the REST OF MY LIFE! All the way home in my car, I grieved the thought of never having a Yorkshire pudding or sausage roll again.

I looked everything up online; I bought books, and started cooking a whole new way. I feel amazing, weight has stayed off, and found it “kind of easy” to do this….except going out to eat, and when traveling through airports (especially international routes where you are not allowed to take food with you). As I continued studying and living gluten free, I realized I also had to change my cosmetics, creams, lotions, shampoo, prescriptions and even some pharmaceutical products— even my prescriptions were now making me sick.

Gluten seemed to be in everything and everywhere. In most restaurants (even top end hotels) both chefs and wait staff ignored or didn’t really understand the concept of “gluten free” and avoiding cross-contamination (and the consequence of “…if that happens, I can’t come here again, nor will my family and friends if I’m with them”). That’s potentially a lot of business they would be losing out on — especially if this is not a trend. Unfortunately, the staff brought whatever they usually served as I looked down in horror at the croutons on my salad, or I found out later by looking online that their sauce did indeed have “modified” corn starch.

Believe it or not, it seems corn starch is okay, but “modified” corn starch is not. What an education process this is going to take in any business with their staff that uses gluten in or near their other products. Will the world split in half with those business offering gluten free and (advertising it) and those who don’t?

The awareness of gluten intolerance is getting better, but I ask any of you who produce or provide a product with gluten: are you getting more requests to go gluten free?

I realized it is not just me who chooses not to go to your store, brand, hotel or pick up your product; it is my entire household, so that is up to five of us no longer purchasing.

Most grocery stores in North America now have an aisle or section dedicated to gluten free. Is it a trend that will fade, or is it here to stay?

For me to keep feeling well, the only treatment is to live 100% gluten free without cross-contamination. That means that the food you eat, the cosmetics you use, or the prescriptions you take must not contain gluten, nor be manufactured in warehouses where wheat products are used. Once I started to remove it completely, I now feel the effects of gluten within 10 minutes: I get a sharp pain at the top of my stomach and then brain fog sets in. I have to be really careful and I now travel with my own food. Airports could get much better at offering readily available gluten free food. Lays “regular” potato chips are gluten-free and have become my best friend in an airport (their sales may be up if the gluten-free trend continues!). As I searched, I found several progressive restaurants with gluten-free menus, so of course I take all the family there now and avoid the other establishments.

Last August, I spent a week on the island of Grand Cayman, known as one of the culinary capitals of the world. I was amazed how most restaurants and hotels there have got on board with delicious appetizers, breads/toasts, entrees, and a variety of desserts that all met my new dietary needs. My waiter and the chef from the Westin 7 Mile Beach hotel took such good care of me during my stay. From the time I entered, they stated “No problem, our chef will accommodate your needs.” It was exquisite dining, and they even made up four sample desserts “all gluten-free” just for me. Thank you for taking care of me.

Will gluten-free and other dietary requests become the new customer service norm in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical services industries? We will have to wait and see. I will continue to mystery shop and keep my eye on this trend – mostly because I have to.

Is this a new customer service trend? If it is it will take some staff training and probably you could combine your menus with nut free, dairy free as well. For your staff send them for more information about celiac and those who are adversely affected by gluten, visit:

For more information about our training or keynotes on customer service visit: “Transforming Teams into Customer Care Crusaders”.

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Why Suppliers Need to Work Together to Deliver Better Customer Service

Do you work in an interdependent environment, where suppliers can sink each other and you are often left with the customer screaming at you? The customer acquisition cost for everyone is just too high. On the other hand when the supply chain is working beautifully everyone wins. It is shown that satisfied customers add 15% to 20% to a bottom line, because acquisition costs lower dramatically, let alone the costs of correcting service breakdowns. In addition, employees love working for companies that pride themselves on service and the recruitment costs go down significantly as well. Destinations, airports, resorts, malls are all examples of highly interdependent environments. They absolutely count on each other and they can’t work in silos. They really need each other to deliver service well for all of it to work.

Have you ever thought of training or putting on an event where you could all learn together? As you are typically serving the same demographics, so it makes sense to align things. Interactive topics where attendees get engaged could include: trends, competitive analysis, service level standards, packaged pricing or cross-marketing opportunities. The list is endless and I love it when I get to do a needs analysis to develop the program to make it all happen. The results are fabulous and enable business growth for all.

As we all know the internet and social media – can pretty much connect us. Suppliers and clients, and even sometimes friendly competitors, often known as “co-opetition” can use this to their advantage. In the last several months, I’ve been fortunate to either be developing programs, delivering or attending an event for groups of suppliers who all work in an integrated, interdependent environment. The mystery shop results are amazing.

An Example of How Suppliers Can Learn & Work Together – Grand Cayman Aug. 15 2013
If you are a hotel sales & catering manager, tourism association, meeting planner, destination management company, airport, airline, incentive company or even a supplier at a world renowned destination, you may want to attend the SITE Florida/Caribbean Educational Workshop entitled “Destination Meets Incentive Travel 101” on August 15th, 2013 in Grand Cayman. This is in partnership with Cayman Islands Tourism. The attendees will be a cross-section of suppliers and the interactive content it directly focused on how attendees can explore ways to more synergistically work together to bring acquisition costs down and how to attract and retain more customers. For more information click here:

If your organization or association needs assistance in this area, send us an email to find out how we can help.

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Why Every “Touch Point” Counts in Customer Service

What is a “touch point”? A touch point is every occasion when your customer sees or hears your name, logo or ad, visits you on-line or in person, or any point during the transaction from beginning to end.

The two reasons you must understand touch points are:

  1. A Service breakdown can happen at any touch point, resulting in loss of customers; and
  2. Analyzing touch points will help you recognize where you “add value”; delighting customers results in attracting and keeping more customers.

Exploring both of these issues and how to manage every touch point can improve your company tenfold. Having long periods of sustained competitive advantage no longer applies in our technological era, and with fewer and fewer touch points where a human being is involved, service better be great! We as humans are still analog – not digital beings – and we want great service. However, training budgets have been cut to the bare bones, and although companies “build” things to improve a touch point, they often don’t train their employees how and why they did it or even how to implement it. A new menu and remodeled storefront may look great, and “re-branding” with new logos and website may revitalize things to a degree, but if employees don’t understand “why” in context of each touch point, they will continue to do the same thing, or ignore the way the new item was meant to interact with the customer. Exploring touch points is where “things” meet “people”.

Examples of touch points for an airline:

  1. Choosing the carrier (usually on-line these days): finding the route, date, convenient time/connection and pricing. Then looking at reviews or just past experience.
  2. Check In counter: Easy to find and clearly marked, with efficient queue management and seat selection. Now with on-line check-in and no checked bags, customers can miss this touch point altogether, so there is no room to delight or add value here.
  3. Security: Airline has notified customers about liquids/gels and other restrictions as well as time allowances to clear security.
  4. Retail options in their selected airports: since many flights no longer provide reading material, beverages and food, conveniently located retail outlets are actually another touch point (if a customer chooses to take that route) -they avoid bad airports.
  5. Boarding lounge (efficient and organized) or Business class lounges.
  6. Boarding process: Friendly announcements about organizing times to board and who may board first, second, third.
  7. In-flight services from seating to food and beverage service, etc.

I could list many other touch points, but I recommend every department or division in a company do this:

  • get a whiteboard and define all the touch points with their senior executive team
  • note possible service breakdowns
  • list reasonable solutions for items that could be proactively corrected, and
  • list solutions for those service breakdowns that are out of your control (what I call “one-offs”) and work with suppliers to see if they can or will provide a fix.

Also look at touch points for “value add” opportunities; they are often very cost-effective. For example, WestJet simply tells jokes at the point of boarding, which often brings a chuckle or a smile (value-add) – and they typically bring along a repeat customer.

The goals in every customer touch point are to:

  1. Exceed expectations
  2. Delight
  3. Minimize disappointment

What used to delight becomes the norm very quickly. So be on the lookout to “Create New Value Add or Wow Moments” and keep your brand promise.

If your company needs a one-day facilitated session on analyzing touch points, send us an email today.

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The Real Cost of Losing a Customer

They Now Tell 500+ Friends Before They Get to the Parking Lot

One of the most fascinating things that I witness from time to time is when a company can’t handle the discerning customer. This is someone who provides feedback and complains and if the substance of the feedback was actually listened to— it can dramatically help a business improve. Often with just a few tweaks, suggested by the customer, a business can actually save the company time, money and keep their brand promise intact.

Tragically, the feedback of a discerning customer can backfire if the company tries to defend vs. fixing the problem. The business “fires” the customer inadvertently. I think of a recent instance of a dissatisfied customer making some appropriate (and factual) comments to another customer. The owner of the business learned of it defended their position, and terminated the relationship without giving any credit to the substance of the feedback, which pertained to broken equipment and lack of cleanliness. Unfortunately for the business owner, the cost of firing this customer resulted in the loss of 9 other customers also. Someone with over 500+ friends will have told everyone about the interaction before they got to the parking lot.

When a business gets a customer complaint, it’s likely that there are a hundred more with the same opinion, so best to do something about it. The hundred customers that you have not heard from – talk behind your back and now online to hundreds more at a time. Have you ever heard the saying “The Customer is Always Right”? In most cases, they are. I do have a Caveat: If there is an act of violence or someone’s safety is in jeopardy, get immediate assistance; you are probably justified in firing (losing) the customer.

Let’s look at the cost losing a customer by contrasting it to the “life time value” of a customer. The following formula does not include the cost of acquiring a new customer. Here is the sample cost breakdown of losing a customer from the scenario I described above.

    Lifetime Value of a Customer

Scenario: a fitness club, at which equipment maintenance and cleanliness have deteriorated. Membership revenue is generated monthly (/mo).

LOSSES: 1 customer leaves and convinces 8 friends to leave.
9 memberships x $35 /mo = $315 /mo x 12 months = $3,780
5 years (expected length of a typical membership) = $18,900

Firing “one customer” cost that business almost $19,000 in revenue. Do you think it will fix equipment and improve cleaning to retain other customers? How long do you think a company will be in business with these kinds of losses?

Lesson: If you own or help run a business, you better pay close attention to how your customers feel. Failure to do this will be the loss to your business in (1) revenue when the customer walks and (2) potential revenue when they then tell the world. (3) Not to mention potential loss of the entire business and personal loss of income for the owner, all the employees (jobs), and all your suppliers! Ouch!

Granted, sometimes a customer is not your correct demographic. For example, someone who normally travels First Class will have a tough time traveling on a discount carrier, and you’ll never please them no matter what you do. In cases like this, there is a way to “inform” or teach customers about the different aspects of your business so they understand why something is happening. Refer to my other blogs for the “Knock it Off Nicely” technique where you have no choice but to deal with a situation without causing hard feelings.

This blog addresses the feedback that a customer provides to a business that is “right” and could dramatically help identify vulnerabilities and opportunities to improve. It’s always best to REALLY listen. This is where training staff becomes vitally important; it is no longer optional for companies if they don’t have the skill to handle difficult or unhappy customers. Unfortunately, I often see an employee or even a business owner trying to defend “their” company because they are personally vested. They take any slight or negative criticism personally and may get angry back at the customer. As you know, this just ends up in ill will for both parties. The company always loses, the customer just goes elsewhere. Meanwhile the customer is telling 500+ friends on Facebook what just happened and if the story is “juicy” enough it goes viral. Your business loses in the end.

To avoid the costly scenario of firing a customer, put better customer service practices into your business plan for daily implementation. Every business should look at how to effectively handle customer feedback, whether received face-to-face (often with frustration and anger), or through e-mail, letters, and every form of social media. Remember, it’s not just “1” complaining customer; they are simply the voice of others who are also sharing their “horror stories”. If you don’t listen and go looking for the feedback in the first place, you won’t get a chance to fix it. There is no way to stop the consequences that an unhappy customer can cause to your business these days if you are not dealing with the problems.

Go looking for feedback: create a Google alert to see what others are saying about you. This is often the BEST form of feedback for a company to follow how they could improve. It used to cost tens of thousands of dollars for focus groups and mystery shoppers; now, the feedback is at every business owner’s fingertips.

How you treat the customer effects our entire economy as well as job loss and employment rates directly within our communities and nationally. The world is now competing for our customers. If you feel it is time to bring a new or improved culture of care to get your business to the next level, don’t hesitate to contact me at:

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It’s Easy to Provide Customer Service When There Are No Disabilities – But Are Your Staff Comfortable When There Are?

It is easy for staff to provide customer service to those who are fully “abled”, but are your staff comfortable and do they understand how to help (or sometimes not) when someone with a disability does show up?

I’ve worked on airplanes and restaurants and had to deal with various disabilities from complete mobility loss to hearing loss and everything in between. As a flight crew, we needed to learn how to assist someone in a wheelchair getting to the plane as well as use “Skychairs” to bring guests down the narrow aisle to their seat. I’ve worked extensively with airports and the public train system in preparing staff to assist customers with a variety of different situations they could face. This training includes preparing 5,000 staff to “Welcome the World” for the 2010 Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

As we deal with an aging population (and it is coming fast), a lot of the typical disabilities begin to appear and your staff and establishment better get prepared. The primary disabilities with which staff should be familiar are:

• Hearing loss
• Vision loss
• Mobility loss
• Cognitive challenges

Employees should be able to define the different types of disabilities and how best to assist:
• Understand the differences between a disability caused by a physical impairment and a disability caused by aging.
• Discover methods of communication that work best for those with disabilities of hearing loss, visibility loss, or cognitive challenges.
• Uncover more appropriate language to use when discussing disabilities.
• Assist with transitions from one department or supplier to the other (think transfers).

Facing the reality of an aging population and the fact that one-third of the population in North America are now baby boomers, businesses are going to have to look at barrier-free initiatives; how will their counters, stores, front entrances, signage and so forth be newly arranged to accommodate? Are your counters — or parts of them — low enough for those in mobility devices, and are your aisles wide enough? What about the curb leading up to your entrance? I’ve seen staff get frustrated because they did not anticipate the effects of aging and how to respond to customers who are experiencing them. Would you like your parent treated like that because they are becoming a little more forgetful or frustrated or because they can’t stand and wait that long or walk too far? How does your after-sales service look for those with disabilities?

If you feel your company needs assistance, we can assess how you serve customers with disabilities and develop customized training programs for your staff. Email us today:

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Are You Serving Broccoli and Chocolate?


Give Customers What they Need So They Stay for What They Want.

If you were to ask your child what they wanted for dinner, would they say broccoli or chocolate? Chances are it would not be the broccoli, although as parents we know they need it. Most businesses get lost in trying to deliver the “chocolate” when delivering customer service, and get distracted from their customers’ core needs (the “broccoli”) – the needs that made a customer decide to come to you in the first place.

Take travel for instance. When a customer buys a ticket for a flight or a train ride, they need to move – to be transported! You can give all sorts of bells and whistles along the way, but that train or plane better get a customer to where they’re going. If they’re not moving, the next thing they absolutely need is to be informed. Just look down the aisle of any airplane at 9:02 when it should have left at 9:00. The entire plane is looking around at the flight crew wondering what is going on. They are thankful when the staff make an announcement with an update and they all go back to their reading. Keeping customers moving and informed is what I call the “broccoli” of providing customer needs in this industry. A business must know their essential service and not lose sight of it.

Think also of fast food restaurants. As customers, we need efficient, affordable and clean places to eat with working and “clean” bathrooms. Miss these fundamentals (the “broccoli”) and the customer will probably go elsewhere. Businesses should understand their absolute musts (the “broccoli bits”) of their business to meet customer needs so they and their teams can make decisions and prioritize – especially when things don’t go as planned.

The “chocolate”, on the other hand, are your extras, often known as the things that set you apart or the cool stuff. The whip cream or swirl on top of your coffee; the sleeve so you don’t burn your hand from a hot cup; the pickles; the type of dishes; the decor; a pillow or blanket on a flight. The options are endless, and every business knows what they need to constantly update their “chocolate” to stand out in the crowd. However, those companies who have longevity don’t lose their focus on the “broccoli bits” that their customers need before dishing up the “chocolate” to keep them coming back for more.

If you need a customer service keynote, customer service training, or assistance defining or being reminded of the “broccoli” and the “chocolate” of your business, send us an email to find out how we can help.

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“How Low Can You Go” in Airline Customer Service?

TouchdownIs a “deal” really a deal when you book a flight on a “discount carrier”?

Are the days of customer service really gone in the airline industry? Are they all competing to be cheapest? We all know that “cheapest” means barely meeting the customer’s needs as one cuts cost so low.

I don’t normally rant, but my experience with airlines comes from the days of Wardair with its Royal Doulton China, hot towels, filet mignon, dessert trolleys and so much more. After my recent family holidays, I am sad to say that airline service has come to an all-time low. I ask: Do we need to revert to better days where the flight was part of the journey, not the inconvenience?

Under a bit of protest, I decided it was best to save a few dollars on the flights. So off to the Internet we went to shop for a “deal”. The family found one!! Wow, really the price was shocking. Unfortunately, what I’ll call “à la carte services” were more shocking!!! And I just heard Ryan Air is making about $35 million extra dollars on the “extras”. Good model. Maybe, for now. But let’s look at those “services”.

A La Carte Services
Here’s how additional “services” added to the price and took away from our travel experience!
• $35 each way for checked bag (add $70)
• $35 each way if the carry-on has wheels (add another $70)
• $50 for each bag over 40 lbs (add $100)
Since checked luggage for most of us coming home from holidays was a few pounds over at check-in, we all repacked our bags, (which prolonged check-in to almost 2 hours). And even though we’d checked in online and printed boarding cards, there was no separate line or kiosk for those who had checked in online.
• $14 per seat so our family of four could sit together in the back rows. (Seats closer to the middle or front were priced higher.)
• Additional fee for pre-boarding; we declined

To further reduce the airline’s costs, in-flight amenities were reduced or removed:
• Seats didn’t recline
• The seat pocket had been removed to allow 1/8- inch more leg room (leaving no room for papers, magazines, snacks or garbage).
• No air vents
• Reading light flickered (so I turned it off).
• No in-flight entertainment of any kind (not even for purchase).
• Leather on my seat was peeling back on the seat portion, so the plastic edge poked into me the entire flight.
• No pillows or blankets available to pad the seat from the aforementioned plastic poking me (let alone add warmth or comfort)! I used my own coat to avoid the misery.
• No warm drinks (i.e. no coffee or tea) even on 7:00 a.m. flights!
• Toilets smelled like baby diapers and air freshener.
• The final straw: no free water! You have to buy it with your credit card for $2. (They did give me a glass of ice that melted. Yay for the wonderful flight attendant who thought of that solution when I needed to take an aspirin.)

And, to top it all off, our flights were delayed both ways: outbound for one hour for de-icing as one of only two airplanes leaving the airport; and on the return for 40 minutes because they miscalculated fuel for the flight. Good thing they took care of that, but very frustrating as we were fully boarded and ready to go on time! This put us on an airplane for 7 hours in a seat that did not recline and lacking all the comforts listed above. The one saving grace in the entire experience – for which I will give full credit – crew were exceptionally friendly (see my other blogs for the difference this does make).

Please. I understand the appeal of low cost and getting a “deal”. But is the product now so eroded, and are the extra hidden costs that make it more expensive in the long run really worth it?

I ask my readers: Would you use this company again? I ask the airline: How long do you think the passenger will continue? I think it’s time we swing back the other way.

Kudos to American Airlines for its efforts:

Kudos to Air Canada for putting some fun back into the wonderful job of being a crew member. As I’ve written in other blogs, happy employees help make happier customers.

If you are looking for a keynote speaker, breakout session or training, email:

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5 Ways to Use Social Media to Replace Comment Cards in 2013

AAVA FeedbackDoes your business still print out Comment Cards and leave them near the where the transaction takes place to conveniently hand out? Do your customers take the time to fill them out? Not anymore! It’s over; the days of Customer Comment Cards are dead. Most likely the customer will go home and rant on email, Twitter, Facebook, or – even worse – make a YouTube video about how bad they perceived your service.

The other day, I was surfing a major airline’s Facebook page and reading the ruthless comments (for some reason, airlines are an easy target for complaints), and it confirmed to me that there is NO NEED for Comment Cards anymore. You want customers’ comments? Just check the social media sites: the angry customers are right there on your page venting, replying to each other, “liking” and sharing.

Wow, I wondered, what is this doing for corporate culture and where does that leave employee morale (some employees are people who actually do care), let alone the damage done when someone Googles your company name and then sees all this? The typical reaction of customers is to either get involved and vent too, or run away from the business.

These very public complaints about your company can have a real impact on your employees. Your previously private customer service department’s complaints letters are now public for the world to see and often in real time. You may need to do some damage control before complaints escalate with devastating effect. Comment Cards used to be a great way for a company to monitor how they were doing, review them, and reply if customer contact information was provided and, ideally, remedy the problem. In addition, staff loved comment cards because offering the opportunity to comment was a way to get the customer off their back. Now, however, staff may worry that their interaction with a difficult customer will end up on the Internet.

How to Use Social Media to Deal with Customer Service Issues
Here are some ideas on how to use social media for your Customer Service:

  1. Create a Google Alert for your company name or product so you receive an email each time someone mentions either of them. Monitor any negative ones, and respond immediately online, adding a comment or damage control statement to your website, or a press release if necessary.
  2. Dedicate a team (even one person) to scour your social media sites and reply, respond or offer remedies immediately online. (This could be your customer service department, the people who have already been handling phone calls, comment cards and letters.) Bring regular service breakdowns you are seeing into the company and set up systems to minimize the issues.
  3. Develop Communication Guidelines so that staff know how to reply without sarcasm, anger or other damaging behaviours.
  4. Create a QR (quick response) code that takes customers to your website quickly for feedback. Think “Customer Care Card” and set up the fields just like on a comment card to collect feedback and voice their opinions. For example, see the photo I took from Trip Advisor after my last stay at a hotel in Whistler, BC. I quickly scanned the QR code into my phone, and when I got home, I added my comments about my stay: how lovely the staff and the hotel were; however, housekeeping left only three towels when four of us were booked; left only decaf coffee; and did not replenish the toilet paper (which caused an extra trip for very busy staff). I’m sure this feedback – which was so easy to give online – could be used at the next Housekeeping meeting and corrected for the next week.
  5. Have customers follow your Twitter account so they get immediate updates if operations go awry. For example, a hotel could use a Twitter account specifically for current guests to keep them notified in real time of water or power outages (most phones run on batteries) or pool closures and when service is anticipated to return, or – better yet – announce a “Wing Night” or Happy Hour Specials. Hotels could have guests “Follow” a Twitter account when then they check in to that location, then “Unfollow” the account at the end of their stay.

Ask yourself, “How could I be using social media for my Customer Service, either to enhance the service or remedy things?” Social media in this realm is now reality; real people commenting in real time, and truer than ever “If you snooze, you lose”.

– – –

I’m researching how various types of companies are using social media for Customer Service (not just sales). Later, I will make available a White Paper on the topic. You are welcome to participate in this research via online survey. This research will provide valuable keynotes and material for breakout sessions at future conferences for those who want to develop a better strategy for their social media initiatives. Thank you in advance for doing the survey.

To complete the survey (just a few questions; takes less than 5 minutes), please visit:

Thank you again.

To book Elaine for an interactive keynote or breakout at your next conference or meeting, email:

If you want a copy of the White Paper with market research, results and ideas on how you can use Social Media for your customer service initiatives, sign up for Elaine’s newsletter at

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The Top 5 Customer Service Complaints During the Christmas Rush and What Leaders and Staff Can Do About Them!!!

Frustrated ShoppersBeware shoppers may bring this to your business!

We’re all in the middle of the final countdown to Christmas and seasonal celebrations that could make just about anyone wish they would get ploughed down by a reindeer. If you are in retail, then there will be returns shortly thereafter. From buying gifts, food, alcohol parties and everything in between, we all need the extra time and strategies – including the staff who are working during the rush. Most people are not on their regular clock and they are getting pushy and cranky out there. This includes service staff in any of those industries that won’t breathe until about January 5th. If staff have to hear music by “Alvin & The Chipmunks” one more time this week, they probably want to @#$%^ scream!

So how do service staff keep their sanity? By helping them prepare for the things that don’t go as planned or the frankly the service breakdowns that are caused by the rush.

Before a shift, customer service staff could discuss how to handle the different service breakdowns that happen during this season by using some of these ideas and brainstorm further or discuss a breakdown that happened yesterday that they could not seem to find a solution to. The focus should be on how to proactively handle it (find 3rd ways), so staff are ready when it does happen because they know it will happen again.

Top Service Breakdowns and Some Possible Solutions
Use this for Customer Service Training Meetings before a shift to get the discussions started.

For each of the service breakdowns, I suggest some possible solutions below. Leaders and staff can use this to brainstorm for more ideas pertinent to their business.

1. Lineups at the cashier.

  • Ensure stanchions are correctly used or place product tables to guide people; no one likes a “cutter”.
  • Staff should know how to politely guide people and exercise crowd control and not be afraid to let people know where and how they could line up.
  • Offer to hold the products for a specified time . If someone is really upset, offer to hold and place their name on items, especially if they have other shopping to complete. Suggest they could also come back at a quieter time, the end of day, or the following day, or give a time limit (if you think they might not come back and you know you could sell the items).
  • Have separate lineups for cash and debit/credit card purchases.

2. The computer system goes down during busy times.

  • Start a cash lineup separate from the debit/credit card purchases. Post a “CASH ONLY” sign if possible.
  • Depending how long the system will be down, offer to hold products and for them to come back.

3. You are out of stock or a certain size.

  • Offer an alternative gift idea by finding out who it is for, then think “what else?” and show them other options.
  • Order online (make sure you note the website and actual product name or SKU number for them). Even better, show them how to, or do it for them (time permitting). Many big stores now have the internet kiosk right in their stores and you can ship it directly to the customer. Don’t wait for the customer to leave the store.
  • Offer a gift card.

4. A customer has an adult temper tantrum.
This can be really hard on staff if they’ve never witnessed an adult having a hissy fit. It is often not the staff member they are mad at; more likely, it’s just the situation or the 15th thing that has gone wrong that day and their blood pressure or heart rate has just hit the max.

  • Don’t speak while the customer rants. Let them finish; be attentive and show sympathy.
  • Put on an imaginary shield. Don’t take it personally, try to figure out their plight.
  • Don’t tell them your policy or say “you can’t speak to me that way” (this just increases the intensity). Show concern by asking questions like when, where, how, and what to find out more about the problem; this often calms someone down, and shows you’re actually thinking or trying to get to a solution.
  • Move them to the side of the counter or to a more private place, or offer to see if the manager can help or if someone can contact them if you find out more.
  • Look for 3rd ways to solve their problem. Creative staff always win if they are focused on solving even the worst customer’s problem. They are often loud, and will tell everyone how good you were – because they often know how bad they were.

5. There is no one around to help.
Staff shortages, poor layout of stores, or even new processes can cause havoc on a frustrated shopper, and they may “abort mission” real fast. The sale is lost and they most likely won’t come back in January.

  • Have a sign suggesting: Can’t find what you are looking for? A gift card may work.
  • Ensure most popular items are easily accessible, stocked and sized before store opening and replenished on a regular schedule.
  • Staff do call in sick over the holidays, sometimes more often due to the number of contacts they are having. It can be tough for the remaining staff to squeeze in a 15-minute or lunch break during this season. Call on each other (rally staff) to stagger breaks during slower times or take shorter breaks to refresh, then offer a “sleep-in day” (come in fifteen minutes or an hour later) or get off earlier on a slower day in January.

For now, everyone does have to make concessions this time of year. It won’t be like this in mid-January if you are in retail! I promise!!

If you know an organization, or you’d like to improve your customer service contact the Customer Service Expert Elaine Allison visit to learn about her Keynotes & Learning Programs.

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What does “Internal” Customer Service Really Mean?

Customer ServiceMost people understand that “customer service” refers to serving those who purchase a product or service. That’s “External Customer Service”. But what about “Internal Customer Service”. What is it, and what happens when things break down on the inside of a company?

Internal Customer Service refers to the interactions between all the employees who support the company and those who work on the front line with “The Customer”. Regardless of the department – whether marketing and sales, operations, legal, human resources, I.T., or any other department – the way that these employees treat each other and work on solutions internally actually affects the customer and the bottom line.

Although you may think the customer doesn’t see it, I guarantee that if internal customer service is breaking down, your external customer service feels the hit eventually. This not only dilutes your ability to attract new customers; it also affects how you retain customers. If internal customer service is suffering, a large marketing budget can be wasted expense.

Sample Breakdowns of Internal Customer Service

The following examples show how problems internally can have external effects:

  1. A payroll person makes an error on someone’s pay check, the employee can become frustrated, and the customer notices the indifferent attitude of the employee.
  2. Inadequate or frayed order entry processes delay delivery of products or services. The customer service representatives who are trying to deliver the product or conduct the transaction are constantly trying to appease the customer, often with costly ramifications both in reconciliation and time. Those who understand the complications of supply chain management can prepare customers, seek alternatives (3rd ways) to the customers’ immediately problems, lessen the impact and stress on colleagues and their customers.
  3. Two employees are not speaking to each other or are blaming each other’s departments. When two people ignore, avoid or blame each other because they don’t have the tools to resolve issues, there are service breakdowns internally and further along the line. Honest communication is key, and working towards “resolve” and how to fix things without ill feelings will always catapult an organization forward.

How to Improve Internal Customer Service

Let me help work with your organization with my “I Can Fix That” programs. Your attendees will learn that the focus should be on recognizing their internal service breakdown without blaming and working towards resolve. I’ll help reprogram their thinking to focus on problem solving. In the interactive keynotes and workshops, I teach a variety of techniques so they realize the only thing that counts is fixing the problem. Both employees and customers benefit from these key learning’s, and the behaviours are often enacted the next day.

Email me today to see how we can help improve your Internal Customer Service. or visit my YouTube Channel:

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