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Managing multiple customers: Five tips for juggling customers, callers, and walk-ins

By Jeff Mowatt

82753691-mainYou know the scenario… your workday is running smoothly and manageably when suddenly you find yourself dealing with one customer in front of you, another on the phone, while a third arrives with just a quick question. When organizations bring me in to conduct customer service seminars, I find this is one of the most frequent challenges frontline employees ask me to address. While there are no absolute rules for juggling customers—you need to adapt to your workplace’s business realities—here are five tips we find work well for our clients in reducing stress and boosting customer loyalty.

Tip #1: Remember, this is good

Having lots of customers wanting to do business with you is wonderful. It means you and your organization are in demand. The obvious solution to juggling multiple customers is to hire more people. Of course, that’s oversimplified, and may make no economic sense, especially when there may be only one or two rush periods during the day or week. When you see more customers arrive, don’t let them see you sweat. Take the professional approach and broaden your smile, even though it may be slightly forced. Keep in mind the adage of L.L. Bean who said, “Customers are not interruptions to your work, they are the purpose of your work.”

Tip #2: Don’t make things worse

One of the most frequent gaffs in frontline service is when a customer needs to ask a question, but the employees are preoccupied, talking with each other. Even more aggravating is when staff congregates to socialize, while customers are left to fend for themselves. The place for employees to chat and hold meetings is in the staff area, not in front of customers. When you’re on the floor, make yourself visible and available to customers. Of course, that also means not interrupting co-workers who are talking to customers. If you need to speak with a colleague, give them a quick nod, then let him or her come to you when they’ve finished with the customer. If you absolutely must interrupt, then excuse yourself and apologize to the client for the interruption, and as you leave, thank him or her for their patience.

Tip #3: Walk-ins take priority over phone-ins

If you already have a customer in front of you when the phone rings, he or she gets priority. Think of it this way—the client took the time/spent the gas money to arrive in person. Unless you have callers with genuine emergencies, don’t interrupt a customer to pick up the phone. That’s what voice-mail is for. If you must take the call, ask the client’s permission, explain you want to focus on them, and will quickly take a message. Then tell the caller you are with another customer, but will look into their request and call them back. That way, even if the caller insists on immediate service, the visitor sees you are at least trying to make them the priority.

Tip #4: Acknowledge walk-ins right away

If you are on the phone or face-to-face with a customer when a visitor walks in, acknowledge him or her immediately with eye contact, a smile, and a quick, “I’ll be with you in just a few minutes (or however long it will be).” By acknowledging the visitor, you are conveying you are aware of them. And it tells the person in front of you that you have other people waiting. Usually, they’ll get the hint that you need to wrap up.

A common challenge is how to politely interrupt a caller to acknowledge a walk-in visitor. Here’s a quick tip: say the person’s name. “John, excuse me. I just had someone walk into the store. May I put you on hold for a moment? Thank you.” Beginning with the person’s name gets their attention immediately without being rude.

For new arrivals who have just a quick question… If it is indeed quick, that’s great—give them the 10 seconds they need and then get back to the client you are serving. If it’s going to take more than 10 seconds, say something along the lines of, “That’s going to take a few minutes to go over, so I’ll finish taking care of this customer, which will take me about X minutes, then I’ll be happy to help you. Meanwhile, please feel free to look around. Thank you.”

Tip #5: Address chronic staffing/line management issues

In Tip #1, I pointed out that hiring more staff may not make economic sense. However, when customers constantly get the impression a business is disorganized, understaffed, or uncaring about their time, that’s a problem requiring more than just having staff work faster. Managers need to either hire more staff, consider moving phone calls to a call centre, or implement line management practices. Meanwhile, be thankful that business is so good. Here’s hoping this helps makes managing multiple customers less frustrating for everyone concerned.

This article is based on the book, Influence with Ease by customer service strategist and certified professional speaker, Jeff Mowatt. To obtain your own copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Jeff for your team, visit or call toll free (800) JMowatt (566-9288).

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