If You Treat Your Customers as if They're Invisible, They'll Likely Disappear

By Lynn Murphy, M.Ed.

As a kid I wanted to be invisible, but I grew up and got over it. As an adult, when I’m attempting to spend my money at a business, I do not want to be invisible. I want service. If I were to judge based on the reaction of many sales associates and servers, there must be times when I am completely invisible.

My husband and I recently visited a nice chain restaurant, one with table service and a good reputation. The hostess seated us, handed us menus and left. And there we sat. For almost 10 minutes. Nobody greeted us. Nobody brought us water. Nobody even made eye contact. Plenty of servers and even a manager walked by. I tried to make eye contact with someone, anyone, after sitting there all that time. The restaurant wasn’t even busy. Servers were standing behind a counter several feet away merrily chatting with each other. Nobody even looked at us.

I finally got up, walked back to the hostess and told her we were still waiting for service. She immediately apologized and tracked down the problem – the server didn’t know it was her station. It really didn’t matter to us if they had an internal communication breakdown. We were still hungry - and getting more unhappy by the minute. Someone should have noticed that we were sitting there for much too long without service.

I understand how busy servers can be and how chaotic the business is at times. However, it's everyone's job to still be aware of what’s going on. I experience this in retail stores, too. Frequently employees walk down the aisles and purposely avoid making eye contact with the customers.

Do they hope that we won’t bother them if they don’t make eye contact? They might get their wish when we decide to spend our money elsewhere.

Here are some of the keys I teach my customer service clients that will help you and your employees provide better customer service and build loyalty in your customer base:

  1.  Pay attention. Heads up! Know what’s going on all around you. Notice what needs attention even if it’s not specifically your job or your section. Your customer doesn’t know who is assigned to do what. Like us, they only know they’re being ignored. I know it’s tough to always be vigilant when things are busy. But I often experience worse service when a restaurant isn’t busy than when it is. Do you lose your edge when things slow down? Just making eye contact to acknowledge the customers, saying hello and offering to help as you’re passing them in the aisles can make a big difference to your customers, and to your bottom line. People will spend money where they feel welcomed. 
  2. Apologize. If you realize that a customer has been ignored or is upset about the service, apologize immediately – even if you don’t think it was your fault. Your customers want someone to acknowledge the problem. They want to feel that someone cares. Our server and the hostess both apologized a few times throughout the meal. We believed they meant it. 
  3. Make up for it. If your customer thinks it’s a problem, it’s a problem. Do something to make up for it. Our server took the cost of our appetizer off our bill. She was extremely attentive once she realized the problem. It doesn’t have to be something big, just something to let your customers know you want them to come back.

The customers who are treated as if they’re invisible will soon become truly invisible around your business. They’ll spend their money somewhere else. Surveys show that when people quit doing business with a company, over two-thirds of the time they leave because they were treated poorly, not because of the product or price. That’s something you can control. In these economic times, your level of customer service may be the thing you need to set you apart and help you survive.

Your bottom line will reflect it if you quit treating customers as if they’re invisible and consistently provide exceptional customer service.

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