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Nobody cares that you are short-staffed

Updated: May 4, 2022

I went on a little getaway this weekend. The resort was lovely—three restaurants, four bars, and a spa… but only half of that was open, and what was open didn’t match the posted hours or service description.

On our last night in the resort, the restaurant missed out on at least a $200 meal. We were celebrating and in the mood to have a premium dining experience. While we debated our dinner plans at the rooftop bar, the manager radioed down to the restaurant to find out the wait time was 45 minutes. Instead of booking it for us, she asked us to physically walk to the restaurant, where we were then told the wait time was an hour and 30 minutes, but “realistically, we would not get served.” My companion pointed out the visibly empty dining room, and the staff fired back about an 8 top and 16 top coming in.

No one cares about your “16 top” when staring at an empty restaurant. Ok, maybe that’s not fair. It’s not that we don’t care; it’s more we expect you to have it figured out by now. Across customer service as an industry, 93% of teams report higher customer expectations than ever before.

Companies consist of people to serve people. People are expensive. Skills are expensive. So, what can you do if one of those things is missing from the equation?

Hire smart people, and automate dumb processes.

Our needs and wants haven’t gone away with the pandemic. We still need basic supplies; we still want creature comforts, instant answers, and great experiences. These needs and desires have compounded the acceleration of technology. And like it or not, customers expect all companies to deliver. Hence AI in the drive-through, robot stockers and smart inventory systems, online ordering for everything, chatbots, the list goes on and on…

Even if you are not tech-savvy, you can add little bits of automation—online reservations, email drip campaigns, a kickass FAQ on your website, and chatbots to fill in when you can’t get people in front of people. And for the love of coffee, answer the customer inquiries in your email and message systems! Not answering messages is supremely aggravating and is the best marketing for your competitors.

Boss mode your messaging.

If you don’t want to take on new tech, create better messaging for your customer-facing staff.

Here is the problem. Your staff is using internal language to communicate in a public-facing role.

Internally, employees feel the pressure of staffing a sprawling built environment or maintaining services. However, externally, we see darkened rooms, inconsistent hours (and experiences), closed signs, disrepair, and apathy.

I don’t care about your 16 top, I don’t want to hear that the system won’t “let” you do something, or that you don’t have the staff to handle what you advertised. Those are internal words that are not going to land well. Internal words need to be turned into real language for customers—from a place of empathy and with your mission in mind. Your frontline people are the voice and face of your company. They have tremendous sway over how customers feel about your brand.

In my example with the resort, if the restaurant had online reservations we could instantly see what was available and make alternative plans. Or if they said something along the lines of, “Unfortunately, we don’t have the staff this evening to meet the level of service that we promise all our guests. Instead of the possibility that you will have a less than stellar experience, here is a free app/drink/discount for another one of our restaurants or services.”

Meaningful and well-thought-out messaging can make a huge difference in your customer experiences. By rephrasing the language, you have turned an aggravation into a conversation about me! You’ve recognized that I still have a problem that needs solving, even if you can’t be the one to solve it, and you likely kept my money on the property.

If you don’t know where your message gaps are, primary market research will fill those in very quickly. Primary market research usually consists of focus groups or surveys, but all you really need to do is get a handful of your current or previous customers on the phone. Ask them about their experiences with your company. Listen to the language they use.

Budgets don’t lie.

Budgets tell stories about what is important to a company. A budget heavy on marketing money but zeros for customer service and training tells the story that acquiring new customers is more important than taking care of the existing ones.

Learning to read budget variances taught me the importance of customer service. At the time, I was still working in multisite property management. I saw the number of rent concessions we were giving—more importantly, I saw how it impacted revenue. The lost revenue meant that we had less money to spend on everything from resident events to maintenance. Thinking about the impact on quality made me start to drill down on what was causing us to give money away and how we could reinvest it to create better experiences.

Let’s go back to my experience at the resort this weekend; say they turn away five customers at $200 each. $1000 of lost revenue can dent a budget, but it isn’t going to close the doors. But what if that happens two nights a week over the course of a year? That adds up to $104,000 in lost revenue!

Once you start to see those numbers on paper, it opens your eyes to how different things could look if management or the frontline staff could have kept that money from walking out the door. Training by budget is a powerful tool for people at every level of your company!

In sum: Customer-centric thinking takes the cake.

When you cannot solve customer wants and needs, those wants and needs don’t go away. They walk down the street to your competitor. The impacts of the pandemic were (and still are) horrifying to businesses. I am not taking that away, but I question if we are in the habit of leaning on that instead of trying new things.

Fair or unfair, your responsibility as a brand is to keep the promise of quality and service you advertise to your customers, no matter what is happening around us. You can’t always have enough staff or afford the latest and greatest tech, but you can communicate better. And sometimes, that can make all the difference in the world.

The brands that figure this out are going to be the market winners.


I specialize in bringing brand personality and marketing messaging to life so you can train, retain, and recruit. Please contact me today if you need help with anything I talked about in this article. It is my pleasure to assist.


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