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Employee Cell Phones Weaken Customer Service

Recently, I had just finished a meal at a local restaurant and wanted to enjoy a cup of coffee but had trouble getting the attention of the waitress who had her head buried in her cellphone. A good friend and associate of mine went to a hospital to visit a relative and when asking what room the relative was in, the nurse responded with the room number without even lifting her head that was focused on her cellphone. A Powersports dealership I visited was so frustrated at the lack of productivity that they had to forcibly take away every employee’s cell phone and keep them until closing.

Cell phones continue to change the way we live, do business and interact with each other. Most jurisdictions prohibit cell phone use while driving; We are reminded in movie theaters to turn off our cell phones and schools everywhere have some sort of policy regarding cell phone use. In order to maintain customer service and productivity, retail business owners must also establish a policy of cell phone use for employees while working. The sooner the better.

Various forms of competition continue to grow for retail business and one the biggest threats to a retail store is internet research and shopping. While internet shopping offers convenience and in many cases, better pricing due to less expense in selling the product online, internet shopping does not offer good, personalized service. Strong, solid, personalized service is what can set a retail store apart from its competitors. Your staff can’t offer that solid, strong personalized service if their thumbs are moving more swiftly than a ninja warrior while on twitter or facebook. It’s in everyone’s best interest if the focus was on the store and customers, not social media and personal lives.

Should you feel that your business needs a cell phone policy, I don’t advocate taking away an employee’s cell phone until the end of the day or issuing a memo or Heaven forbid, sending a text message… Those choices can be viewed as cold, harsh and may harbour resentment. Some staff might have difficulty with the policy so getting personally involved can make the implementation of the policy more understandable and accepting by everyone.

Holding a meeting with your staff, preferably after the store closes for the day so that everyone has their undivided attention for you, shows that this topic and policy is important to you and presents the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your staff. While you are obviously the decision maker, if you can get your staff to feel involved with what is happening, the easier it is for them to buy into what is happening.

Take the time to explain to your staff about the competition you face on a daily basis and that what sets you apart from your competition, is superior customer service that they all can offer from the time someone walks through the front door or the phone rings to when they leave or the phone call is finished. In order to provide that service, the customer requires their complete attention and they can’t provide that if they are engaged on their cell phone. It’s fine to note that you have seen staff use their cell phones at various times but do not single out specific employees that you have observed using their cell phone. There is nothing positive about singling out someone in front of their peers about doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. Meetings should be used to build a team atmosphere, not divide and isolate someone.

Emphasize that customer service is the company’s priority and that in order to ensure that focus is maintained, you are implementing a policy of no cell phone usage while at work with the exception of coffee breaks(if provided) and meal breaks. There is nothing wrong with explaining that while they are at work, they are on your time and you’re not paying them for personal business which is what they are doing when on their cell phone while at work.

While it’s important to state that abuse of the policy will not be tolerated, it’s equally important to ask for feedback so that staff have an opportunity to ask questions or voice any concerns. This allows staff to feel that their thoughts and opinions matter plus it gives you a chance to not only address those questions and concerns but re-emphasize the policy and why it’s important.

It is never good when your bark is worse than your bite so be prepared to back up what you say. Mutual respect is crucial in any relationship so don’t risk losing that respect by not following through on your policies. Your customers will appreciate it.