By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ

Another critical area of business is the way we communicate with our customers. A few days ago I had a lovely weekend break in Dorset and I couldn’t help but smile at the different ways in which the staff in the pub we were staying at managed the expectations of their customers. Some continually made a rod for their own backs whilst others made life easier for themselves and their customers with a few well chosen words. I wonder if you or your staff could learn a thing two from my observations.

Now this was a busy pub close to a beach and it was a Saturday afternoon so lots of people were looking for something to eat. The customers came in waves as the trade ebbed and flowed over the course of the afternoon and, because of the sheer volume of people ordering food, delays started to build up. And with those delays came mutterings and grumblings from some of the waiting customers. At first they said nothing and then they muttered to their companions and then eventually they harangued the bar staff, wanting to know when they would finally get their food. One couple even walked out!

The looks on the faces of some of the staff showed that they were stressed and felt that their customers were being unreasonable and this affected the customer service even more.

There was however one star - one barmaid who didn’t have the same problems as her male counterparts. The food delays were the same but her customers sat quietly enjoying their real ale and waiting patiently for their food. So what did she do differently?

When a new customer came to place a food order, she smiled warmly and calmly explained that the kitchen was exceptionally busy and that, because all their food was freshly cooked, there would be a 30-40 minute wait for food orders. Then she asked them if that was OK. Almost everyone smiled and said yes, and then ordered a drink to enjoy whilst they were waiting. She had learned the secret of managing customer expectations.

So what about your organisation? How well do you communicate with your customers, especially when there is a delay or a problem? Try putting yourself in their shoes and asking yourself whether you would prefer the salesperson to explain the situation honestly and to outline your options, or to keep you in ignorance until after you had placed the order and then were kept waiting! Every organisation has problems but the way you manage your customers expectations can make all the difference when it comes to retaining customers when a problem occurs.