What if I told you that you’d have to wait a few hours to read this blog. Would you wait around for it? Not likely. The good news is that you won’t have to. It’s here and waiting. Let’s dive in.

As I travel the world speaking and working with clients, one of the things I’ve noticed is that different things bother different people. Of course, a lot of it has to do with our cultural norms or our psychological makeup. What may be no big deal to one person, is like nails on a chalkboard to another. For example, I hate it when my kids bounce the ball in the house, while my wife hates being the center of attention. We’re just different people.

But there is one thing that we can all agree on: We hate to wait in line. In fact, we hate waiting for anything. We hate waiting on hold. We hate waiting for our meals and for things we’ve ordered online to be delivered. We hate waiting for people to make a decision, for our kids to get ready for school, and we even hate waiting for the microwave oven to finish those last…five…seconds.

So, if you hate to wait, why do you think your customers and clients will be ok with it? As you look at all the points of contact in your business, how many of them are optimized for speed? Speed of response. Speed of answers. Speed of delivery.

Customer service and the need for speed

To be clear, you can have quality products, phenomenal services and delicious food, but if your customers have to wait for them, they lose their luster. And if they have to wait for what they feel is an unreasonably long time to get what they paid for, you are ruining their experience.

One of the primary reasons that people get frustrated by being made to wait is that most often they feel as if the wait was unnecessary. If we wait in line at the grocery store and they have a number of open, unstaffed checkout lanes, we know they just didn’t schedule enough people. When we have to keep looking at our watch as others are being brought their food at a restaurant, we feel under-valued or forgotten. Or if we are waiting for a table and we see numerous open tables or an empty section, we are confused as to why we have to wait for a table when so many are available.

If we are told by the recording that “We’re experiencing an unexpectedly large volume of calls,” and our hold time will be over 20 minutes,” we wonder why you didn’t staff-up during what everyone knows would be a busy time.

But the truth is we don’t wonder why. We know exactly why. It’s because you’re saving money by cutting staff or reducing staff hours. We wait so you can save money. To be clear, everyone has to be smart with expenditures, but when those cuts directly impact your customers’ experience, the “law of diminishing return” will eventually have our satisfaction give way to our frustration.

Now of course, most employees have no role in deciding staffing levels, but many have a role in delivering services to your customers and clients. You have to be sensitive to those points along your customers’ journey where they may be forced to wait for their journey to continue, answers to be forthcoming, or the transaction to be completed.

You want them to love your product, but they’re frustrated by the process. You may deliver great, personalized customer service, but they were made to wait and your smile doesn’t eliminate the fact that they were less than thrilled by the experience.

The importance of speed in customer service

We all know that expectations are growing for instant gratification, or at least for expedited gratification. Ironically, the drivers of this shift don’t even need to come from your industry! People think: “Well, Uber can show me exactly where the driver is and when they will arrive, why can’t you?” “Amazon can deliver overnight, why do I have to wait three days for your shipment?”

Call your own business phone number and see if you can recognize how many ridiculous things your customers have to listen to before they get to the menu choice they want. We’re asked to enter a number and then have to wait for that number to be read back to us …slowly. Then we are asked if we’re willing to take a survey. Then we are asked to listen closely as the menu has changed. Then we have to wait for our choice…if it is even listed. Then we are placed on hold as “calls will be answered in the order they were received.”

I’ll bet you’re getting frustrated just listening to me recite all of the things you have to to listen to. How great would it be if we didn’t have to wait to do business with you? What kind of competitive advantage might you create if you reduced all the times your customers had to wait?

That’s not a rhetorical question.

Why you do it: Too often we are on the other side of the transaction. What works for us, works for us and we only see who is in front of us. Too often we don’t see the line of people behind them getting more and more impatient by the minute.

Why we hate it: The only thing worse than wasting time waiting, is feeling like the excessively long wait was unnecessary. We often know in our minds how it could be faster and wonder why you don’t recognize it. We hate that you chose to reduce the available staff and that choice cost us our most precious, non-renewable resource — time.

A better approach: Take time to walk your customers’ path and recognize where your bottlenecks are, where your wait can be long and actively and strategically work to reduce it. You have to create the internal flexibility to shift staffing policies and even your delivery model when circumstances dictate. Have the flexibility to reassign staff to the phones during busy times. Open another lane. Explore outside vendors for expedited shipping or delivery (there’s plenty out there.) Go through your online buying process and see if you can reduce the process by a few steps.

Customers will vote with their feet, their money, and their time for the companies that they enjoy working with. Those that waste their time and cost them time, will too often lose their business…in time.

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