Do Your Customers Feel Invisible?

by Whitney Bishop, Change Agent

This week, we have a guest writer! After witnessing this complete customer service fiasco, I asked Whitney if she would share the story to help us all recognize our “invisible” customers. What you’re about to read is true. I watched it unfold live via twitter last week!

I recently took the opportunity to be mobile and work at a locally owned coffee shop/wine bar. I set up my laptop, got comfortable at the bar, and began to think about what purchase I wanted to make. I wasn’t immediately thirsty or hungry, so I thought I’d just get one of my project files open and ready.

I’d been there about 15 minutes. Not one of the three people behind the counter had yet made eye contact with me, welcomed me or asked me if I would like something. A former restaurant worker myself, this struck me as quite odd.

I realized that if I wanted to be served, I would need to get up and walk over to the “order here” section of the counter, just about 30 feet away. Then I became more curious than obedient and felt this was a great opportunity to conduct a little experiment. Exactly how long would it take one of them to acknowledge my presence?

It wasn’t busy. There were about ten customers in the shop. There were three people behind the counter – one barista and two other women. I overheard lots of conversation between them, but not once did they glance down the bar to see how the customer experience was going. This shouldn’t be the case, considering the comments of customers can make or break a business. Plus, with some companies implementing the use of customer experience management software, it shouldn’t be an excuse as to why customers are not being looked after. They should be the main priority of any business.

:35 minutes
I updated my status on facebook & twitter to reflect the situation and my current wait time.

The twitter and facebook posts began to fly. One friend offered to call the place and let them know there was a customer at the counter who was interested in ordering something to drink. Another offered to go through the drive-thru and order something for me, then have them deliver it to me at the counter. A truly inspired friend challenged me to stay there until they acknowledged me, or until closing, whichever came first. If not for another appointment, I might have accepted that challenge.

:45 minutes
I began to glance up from my laptop and look confused, thirsty, anything that might generate some form of action by the individuals working there. Nothing. Another gentleman at the bar got up, walked down to the portion of the counter where you become “visible” to the staff and placed his order. The young man behind the counter even delivered it to him when it was ready. Nice touch, but he never acknowledged my presence, even as I watched him serve the man 2 stools down from me.

Yes, I was clean, not exhibiting any strange or unusual behavior and had a perfectly pleasant smile upon my face…in case you were curious.

:60 minutes – my limit
I decided it was time to pack up and move on. As a small business owner myself, I felt compelled to share my experience with the manager or owner. When I approached the magic two feet of counter, the young man finally made eye contact with me. What a thrill! I’ve been SEEN! I asked if he had a phone number or email for the owner and/or manager. He said that the owner was there! The owner and a manager from another store were the other two people behind the counter! She made me wait another five minutes before emerging.

:65 minutes, and counting
I very politely let the owner know that I wanted to share my experience with her. The experience of sitting in her shop, at the bar, for one hour, without having been acknowledged, welcomed, assisted or even approached. Her response astounded me.

“Well, we only have one person working today. We’re going to have a second person starting Monday.”

Seriously? Sigh.

So I let her know that in that time I was sitting there that all three of them had time to chat, clean, eat, laugh and visit. They had plenty of time to acknowledged my presence.

She apologized somewhat apathetically — not terribly convincingly — and that was it.

I smiled, told her I just thought she might want to know that sometimes people will assume they can get served at the counter and that she might want to realize that it’s a nice idea to acknowledge all of her guests at some point during their visit.

Nothing from her. Wow.

The Message
Do your customers feel invisible? As it says on the Salesforce website, if you don’t know your customers expectations then they probably will feel invisible as you try to scramble to deal with their problem(s). It doesn’t matter whether you have a retail shop, a consulting business, or are part of a large organization. We all have customers. Do you reach out to them on a regular basis? Do you only respond to them when they have placed a request? Do you only “see” them when they have stepped into the “magic zone?” No wonder why some companies have decided to use a HubSpot Outlook connection that can help them sync contacts and pay more attention to their customers.

All I needed to feel satisfied about the owner’s response was a simple acknowledgment of the absurdity of the situation. It would have been nice if she’d offered to pick up my tab the next time I came in. Just the offer would have told me that my experience mattered to her. Taken to an extreme, I fantasized that she might even share this experience with her staff as an opportunity to help them remember to be aware of the customers and their experience. It would even be a good idea to encourage them to make eye contact with customers outside of the magic two feet of counter.

The Decision
I probably won’t go back. I won’t boycott the place, but I will give my business and my money to other local establishments that make me feel happy to be there, make eye contact and welcome me, with a staff that has a sense of humor about things. There are plenty of those places on the same street.

Thanks for the story, Whitney! In a weird way, I’m glad that happened so you could write this article!


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