By Tara Bitzan, Director, Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce
Local businesses in almost every industry are hurting for workforce. Now that Governor Walz has announced a plan and a timeline for fully reopening Minnesota’s economy, the workforce issue is going to get even worse as the businesses that have not been operating at full capacity try to find the necessary workforce to get back to full staff.
Unfortunately, one of the things that has fallen to the wayside during this employee market is quality customer service. Businesses are so in need of workforce that they may settle for employees who may not be an ideal fit or hesitate to make too many demands of employees for fear they may quit. Or, they are simply operating with less staff. This puts businesses in a tough position. It is challenging to meet the needs of their clients with the same level of service they may have been able to provide in the past. However, when consumers are paying for a product or service, they have every right to expect quality customer service.
I hate to be cliché, but we are all in this together. The past year has been difficult for everyone. Feelings of frustration, fear and anxiety often turn to lack of patience and lashing out and that just exacerbates our problems. Now is not the time for us to become divided. The way our community stepped up to support local businesses throughout the past year was commendable. Because of this support, most of our businesses are still open today. But they aren’t out of the woods yet, and I am asking the community to continue to be understanding and supportive as they head down the road to recovery.
Here’s my ask of local residents and consumers: Realize that even though restrictions are being lifted, businesses still have a long way to go to recover from the damage caused by the pandemic. While it is frustrating to wait too long for service, to not be acknowledged when you enter a business, to not have phone calls or emails returned in a timely manner, or to have to wait longer than usual for a product, please do your best to be patient, understanding, and kind. Also, please offer businesses the same respect you are seeking – show up on time for meetings and appointments, pay your bills in a timely manner, and be respectful of their time.
Here’s my ask of local businesses: While the workforce issues are challenging, keep quality customer service a priority. While I like to think that basic customer service skills such as smiling, acknowledging and welcoming people, showing appreciation and being apologetic when necessary should be common sense and shouldn’t have to be taught, that simply isn’t the case. Spend time going over these expectations with your employees. Most people are understanding and forgiving as long as they are not ignored. Eye contact, a smile, and a warm, “Hello! I am so glad you are here! We are short staffed and I am sorry the wait may be a bit longer than usual but I look forward to serving you shortly!” goes a long way. A quick email acknowledging receipt: “Thank you for your email! I want you to know I received it but may not be able to get you a reply for a couple of days. Please be patient and know that I will respond with the information you need as soon as I am able!” is so much more positive than not responding at all, which sends the message: “Your email isn’t important to me and I am ignoring it.”
In so many ways, it seems that disregard for others is becoming an epidemic that is driving our nation apart. Let’s not let that happen in our community.