Kyle (age 21) handles the scheduling, appointments, estimates, and all payment transactions for the auto service center near my office. On a weekday morning at 8:16, I call to inquire about getting my vehicle in for shocks and an alignment. Kyle politely tells me that if I can bring it in within the next 30 minutes, he’ll have it out by 11:45, in time for me to make my lunch appointment.

I agree and head out immediately.

I arrive at 8:37 and notice that there are already three customers in the waiting area in front of me. Kyle is working fast and furious to make certain each gets their questions answered, receives an accurate estimate, and signs the required paperwork to begin the job. With so much to do, Kyle is multitasking like a one-armed paperhanger in a stiff breeze, and he’s trying to make everyone feel like they are important and will attend to them shortly.

Kyle’s friendly, knowledgeable, and he seems to be very competent at keeping so many plates spinning at once. However, as I observe him more carefully, I can detect a subtle level of frustration brewing under the surface.

He’s working solo throughout this rush and it’s got to be incredibly stressful to take such good care of the four customers in the showroom while, at the same time, being constantly interrupted with questions from his service techs, while, at the same time, handling an endless stream of phone calls from prospective customers.

Eventually, it’s my turn and Kyle begins by apologizing to me for the delay while looking over my shoulder to acknowledge the two additional customers that just walked in.

“I don’t know too many people that are working harder than you are today, Kyle.” I said to him.

Something about my statement must have made me appear like a therapist, as Kyle took a deep breath, shook his head, and began to offload his stress.

“I’ve been here for over a year and it’s like this every day. Every day, man! They tell me to give friendly personal service to every customer and to suggest other things we can do for their car, but when they don’t staff anyone else to help you, and they don’t provide a voice mail system to help handle the barrage of calls that come in from the ads they place, you wind up playing the incompetent fool. Ultimately, no one gets the service they expect or deserve…I say I’m sorry a thousand times a day…and I can’t wait for my shift to end.”

I’m no therapist, but it doesn’t take Dr. Phil to realize that Kyle is not going to be working here in six months. (Heck, I’d be surprised if he made it six more days.) And when he finally quits, this national big box retailer will attempt to find another Kyle to plug into that position.

It’s a crying shame, too. Because if Kyle had just a little support from upper management, he’d be a safe bet for long-term employment. Imagine how much better he’d be with five more years’ experience!

If management in this operation would observe what I did, they’d be the ones listening to Kyle, and they’d most certainly provide him with the resources (another counter person, etc.) and the tools (voice mail, etc.) he needs to succeed.

By supporting Kyle, their customers would get a much improved service experience; the kind they’d tell their friends about. And those referrals from delighted customers would have a substantial impact on revenues, decreasing their reliance on expensive couponing and marketing gimmicks to get new customers into the store. Not to mention the repeat business from their existing customers.

Unfortunately, this story isn’t going to end like that. But yours can.

Here are 3 essential considerations you must act on to ensure that your front line associates are able to provide the customer service experience you desire:

  1. ARM YOUR TROOPS WITH THE 3 T’s – A respected General would never send his troops into battle without the weapons they need to win. Make certain your foot soldiers have the resources they require (tools, technology, & training) to provide the kind of service your customers deserve.
  2. WHEN IN DOUBT, OVERSTAFF – While you certainly want to keep an eye on your labor costs, don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish by scheduling one front liner to do the work of three. This is a sure-fire way to disengage your service providers.
  3. LISTEN TO YOUR PEOPLE – You survey your customers, but are you taking the same measures with your front line associates? How are you able to determine if you have frustrated Kyles that are itching to leave, or who have given up trying to delight your customers? Your managers should be asking for feedback from their staff on a weekly basis—and more importantly—acting on that feedback.

POST NOTE: Kyle apologized again when he called at 2:18pm to tell me that service to my car was finally completed. He said one of his techs went home sick and that he had to install the shocks himself.