Establishing a Balanced Staffing Level

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One of the toughest aspects of customer service operations is judging and adjusting the right level of staffing, especially within the hospitality industry, where customer needs can fluctuate hourly, daily and seasonally. Sometimes it can seem like a case of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where you’re constantly asking yourself, Is my business overstaffed, understaffed or just right? Here’s a common-sense approach to establishing a balance that will maximize customer satisfaction while minimizing waste.

First, take stock of your customer experience goals and be sure to always center your business around satisfying those goals. In this article, we’ll consider two kinds of customer experience goals that reflect each end of-of the customer service spectrum. If your business focuses on offering value affordable but with quality, your operations will differ from a business striving for an elite class of excellence. In the former case, you’ll want to establish a standardized model of baseline service that can scale efficiently according to demand, while in the latter case, you’ll want to equip and empower an experienced staff to not only satisfy but over-deliver on customer expectations while reporting effectively to management.

A value-oriented business needs to establish a simplified standard of operations and watch out for overstaffing. Running this sort of business is like tuning a machine for optimal performance and keeping an eye out for changing conditions. Like a well-tuned machine, your customer service staff need to operate according to strict specifications, predictably and consistently. Your training program and workforce management tools are essential in this regard.

Value-oriented businesses adapt well to central management for training, scheduling, and auditing. These companies should seek to efficiently adjust to customer feedback by orchestrating new standards from the hub outward. Due to their standardized methodologies, they can benefit from temporary workers to flexibly augment their workforce according to demand.

If the value-oriented business operates like a machine, the luxury-class business performs more like a symphony. In this case, your staff cannot be engineered to operate within strict parameters, but must instead be allowed to tune themselves and express their work artfully as customer needs and conditions demand.

Since this kind of business seeks to satisfy a more demanding, elite class of clientele, the same workforce management tools that serve the value-oriented business may deliver metrics, but those numbers don’t necessarily reflect real-world customer satisfaction, and thus, they won’t reflect bottom-line returns or long-term viability. Companies serving this class need to consistently over-deliver on expectations, which demands a higher level of customer service, and thus, a higher level of experienced and empowered staff.

The main way to over-deliver on expectations is to over-staff on customer service, but with the condition that each staff member is adding actual value. This is where employee experience, taste, and skill comes into play. You don’t want your over-staffed employees leaning against the counters killing time, but you want them engaged in discreet, thoughtful service that goes to the next level. Consider the case of Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant in New York City. When a waiter in this Michelin 3-Star restaurant overheard that one of his customers had yet to try a hotdog from an NYC vendor, the waiter brought a hotdog from a vendor and had the chef design a custom dish out of it.

In this Internet age, customers tend to accept if not prefer self-serve options. Kiosks are falling out of favor with the advent of smartphones, so you should consider giving your customers the option to use an app or your website to help themselves. Indeed, the web now allows for some degree of offsetting traditional customer service duties. “Our customers appreciate our free online tools, and they tend to drive up business,” says Rose Burberry-Martin, the marketing director for a law firm that offers an online disability calculator for the veterans they represent.

Of course, any business will probably fall between the two extremes of the spectrum we considered in this article. That means you probably need to blend the standardization and auditing offered by workforce management techniques with the artful customer care that only experienced and talented staff can provide. Meeting this balance involves a tiered approach, where you delegate authority to experienced staff onsite to make real-time decisions and adjust your staffing levels as needs change.

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