Insights to be learned from standing in line.

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Good news…you’re next. Bad news…you’re next.

Because I do business development, I’m always observant when it comes to sales and customer experience situations. That’s true whether it’s someone making a sales presentation, handling an objection or doing some type of follow-up. And it doesn’t matter if I’m at a restaurant, a board meeting, a training class or a car wash.

Or, in this case…standing in line at the pharmacy.

I evaluate whatever the situation may be and group my experience into “good” or “not so good” categories (sometimes, even the one we all at times encounter, the “this really sucks” category). When the experiences are “good”, I learn from them and see how I could assimilate the positive actions and outcomes into my way of doing business. And if it can be helpful to the way others do business as well.

By the same token, if the actions and outcomes were negative, I try to think of what could have been done to improve the situation and again, how to incorporate those improvements for myself and others as well.

Which brings me back to my standing in line at the pharmacy.

There’s something called queuing psychology. It’s one reason why stores have impulse purchase items like tabloids, candy and nose hair trimmers at the checkout counter. They serve as a distraction to take your attention away from your wait in line, which, at times, can be frustrating. In fact, according to Professor Richard Larson of MIT, on average, we spend two to three years of our lives waiting in line. (Click on the queuing psychology link, read the article and watch the video. It’s very interesting.)

First of all, unless I’m at DisneyWorld, I generally do not like lines. And standing in line at the pharmacy isn’t exactly the same as standing in line at DisneyWorld. (As an aside, Disney is a master of queuing psychology. As Professor Larson states, “Who but Disney could get people to wait 45 minutes for a two-minute ride?”)

To keep things in perspective, I’ve been doing business with this pharmacy for years. So, they naturally had all my relevant information like, date of birth, insurance provider, address, phone number, shoe size and god knows what else.

I was second in line. Which was good. I could sense that my wait would soon be over. That was until the person in front of me, or rather the computer, started having problems with his information. As soon as I heard the pharmacy person say, “We’re having problems with your information” – I knew I was in for trouble.

So, after 10 minutes, my excitement about being next in line evaporated faster than my chances of winning the Power Ball lottery.

I continued to wait. And wait. I could see that this would soon fall into the “not so good” experience category.

During all this time, even though I was only three feet away from her and we had made passing eye contact, the woman at the pharmacy counter never once said, “I’m sorry for the delay. But, I’ll be with you in a minute.” Even though I knew it was going to be longer than a minute, it would have deflated my rapidly expanding impatience.

But, she continued to ignore me.

When it was finally my turn, she didn’t say hello. Nor did she apologize for keeping me waiting. Nope. Actually, she conducted what amounted to an interrogation by a parole officer. Asking me my name, how it was spelled, my date-of-birth, my phone number, where I lived. All of which was staring back at her from the computer.

It was now closing in on 20 minutes that I’d been standing in line. And I was starting to get even more aggravated.

It was then that I elevated my experience to the “this really sucks category.”

I understood she was confirming my information and why she was doing it. That was a good thing. But, she could have done it another, more customer-friendly way. Something like, “I already have your information, but for your security, I just need to confirm a few things with you. OK?”

Would I still have been annoyed because I’d been waiting for so long? Probably. But, by telling me what she was doing and why, she would have been acknowledging me and letting me know she had my best interest in mind.

Big difference.

So, what did I learn? What’s the takeaway? What does it all mean?

To me, it means that anyone who deals directly with a customer needs to treat them the same way they treat their friends. Pleasantly, with respect and dignity, even if they’re having a bad day like my pharmacy friend. Because customers are friends of your business. They infuse cash into your business. When treated like friends, they will be loyal and continue to infuse cash into your business by buying more. Alienate them, and they’ll quickly become an attrition statistic. Or, even worse, they’ll become a detractor and let everyone know about your company’s poor service. Like I’m doing here.

Check out this post by Colin Shaw for the financial impact of a negative or positive customer experience.

Want to get a handle on what motivates (or de-motivates) your customers and prospects? Try these exercises.

Rather than becoming annoyed or aggravated, with what could be a negative experience, try to learn from it. Learn from the good ones too.

Be observant.
• Take advantage of any situation to expand your knowledge about the customer experience and customer loyalty.
• It doesn’t matter if you’re at the bank, a grocery store, or in a meeting.
• Watch the interaction between people, the process as it unfolds, what works and doesn’t work.
• Recall how you felt and why.

Do surveys and conduct research. To gain a deeper understanding of your potential customer/prospect pain points, conduct surveys and research to determine if the potential for complaints exists for things like:
• Waiting in line or waiting on the phone
Or waiting for the service technician
• Or complaints in general. Just ask them.

Get input from you colleagues.
• Ask everyone in your company to share their “best” and “worst” customer experience encounters.
• Not just in their current jobs, but whenever and wherever they encountered the experience.
• Have them briefly explain what made it good or bad.

To help make the experiences easier to evaluate, create a simple form for your colleagues to complete consisting of:

Background – A very brief, description pertaining to the particular scenario.

Experience – What made it a good or a bad experience. How they felt and why.

Lessons Learned – Whatever the takeaway learned was from the encounter (and what could have been done to make it better if it was a “bad” experience).

What’s in it for you?

You’ll gain valuable insights from all three exercises. The “lessons learned” exercise will create an environment of enthusiastic communal contribution. But, the best outcome will be the opportunity afforded by all three exercises. To identify potential negative customer/prospect experiences and meaningful ways to reinforce positive experiences.

All of which will help to improve your business and it didn’t cost you a penny.

Bob Musial
Bob Musial is a business development coach, author of "Soft Skills. Hard Returns." and humorist who works with professionals to help improve their competency in getting, keeping and expanding business. He's easy to reach. Pretty easy to talk with too.

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