The Seasonal Workers Customer Service Mystery

Discussion
Jul 20, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Retailers and restaurants may add staff during summer months by hiring seasonal workers, but according to 75 percent of mystery shoppers who earlier this month attended the Mystery
Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) National Educational Conference for Shoppers, the extra bodies do not translate into improved customer service.


John Swinburn, MSPA Executive Director, said in a press release, “The survey results are not necessarily negative for business owners, as they don’t show a dramatic decline
in customer service with the addition of summer help. However, they do illustrate an opportunity for companies to utilize their fresh summer staff to really ramp up service.”


Mr Swinburn said mystery shoppers can help retailer clients “pinpoint areas where additional training of their new employees may be needed, ultimately resulting in exceptional customer service year around.”

The mystery shoppers who participated in the MSPA survey conduct more than 3,600 assignments a month across the country.

Discussion Questions: Why do larger staff numbers not translate into improved customer service and what can retailers and restaurants do to remedy this?
To that point, do they really see a need to remedy the situation?

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12 Comments on "The Seasonal Workers Customer Service Mystery"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Ekotch beat me to the punch. As virtually everyone has said, seasonal staff have little or no interest in the job or doing it well. Trying to motivate them just for a short time is likely a non-starter. Trying to motivate them over a longer period may be a bit more tempting. It’s very difficult, in England, for students to get holiday jobs. If they know they have one to step into during every holiday for the next several years to come, they might be more inclined to wake up and do the job with a little bit more oomph. This ties in, though, with the second question to which I would answer, not always. Lots of retailers no longer expect seasonal staff to perform well and have given up even trying. As long as they have bodies who breathe, they don’t necessarily care enough to make the effort to encourage them to enthuse.

Barry Wise
Guest
Barry Wise
14 years 7 months ago

Part of the reason that larger staffs don’t translate into improved customer service is that even when a retailer hires a good person it takes some time and experience for their desire and hard work to translate into good customer service.

In addition, most retailers aren’t hiring new employees in the summer just to have more employees; they’re hiring them to replace workers that are on vacation or taking time off.

I believe that most retailers have the desire and motivation to provide good customer service to their customers, however controlling their payrolls will always be a priority.

Jan Owens
Guest
Jan Owens
14 years 7 months ago

So much depends on how well the management trains its employees, whether seasonal or year-round, and the standards it enforces. Also, the quality of the employee that is willing to work seasonally. I know some in highly seasonal resort areas who recruit students from overseas to work during their summer breaks, see a bit of this country, and seem happy to have the experience (and are often very good workers).

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
14 years 7 months ago
Very often seasonal workers do not go through as thorough and as effective training program as full-time employees. While most companies will say that isn’t so, it is a natural human behavior to not spend the same amount of time on a “temp” or seasonal employee. Additionally, a seasonal employee doesn’t have the same incentive as a full-time employee to exceed expectations. Larger staffs don’t necessarily mean better service for the same reason that bigger is not always better. Larger staffs come as a result of increased demand or more customers coming in the door. Larger staffs require more supervision. On the bright side, the results of the MSPA study show that service is not declining. Also it shows opportunities for improvement. ICCDS, as a provider of mystery shopping services, would suggest that those retailers involved sit down with their mystery shopping company, review the results, look for the opportunities for improvement, make some adjustments to the training procedures, do some retraining and then measure the results. If they don’t have a mystery shopping provider,… Read more »
Erin Kotch
Guest
Erin Kotch
14 years 7 months ago

Perhaps retailers would be more inclined to invest more in training of temps if they thought they might return next summer, or Christmas break, etc. College students in particular are only available during peak seasons, and could be made into “permanent-seasonal” workers – people who have a decent knowledge of your business and only want to work the times of year you really need them anyway. Retailers would fully train them their first summer, then give them a 1 day refresher course each subsequent season. (and yes, they typically stop working for you in 4 years or less, but 4 years is incredibly good turnover for retail!)

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 7 months ago

The findings don’t surprise me. I doubt that the specific reason for hiring seasonal workers is often to improve customer service.

Seasonal workers are usually hired because businesses are expecting an increase in customer traffic or to fill in for regular staff that may be taking time off with the main goal being to maintain employee to customer ratios.

On average, regular workers provide better customer service because of their experience and knowledge, and this gets watered down when temporary workers are on the scene.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Just adding people rarely solves the problem. Temp or seasonal employees simply have no commitment. They are only putting in time. This does not translate to good customer service. Since these employees are not expected to stay, the training is usually very minimal, which does not help. Managers should consider moving only full time employees to customer interaction and keep the seasonal in the background. This way all full time employees understand the customer issues.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Seasonal retailing hires don’t hurt service and don’t help it either because many regular retail employees are temporary anyway. The regular employees aren’t formally called “temps” but the turnover figures show they are. Service quality isn’t improved because of the Turnover Doom Loop: high turnover means retailers won’t invest in training or careful screening which leads to more turnover.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 7 months ago

With high turn over, retailers and service companies don’t take the time to educate/train new employees. Each learns on the run!

What does a one week course in shopper service and handling the ten most common shopper issues take in terms of time to prepare and cost? Are we retailers ever thinking?

Does it not make sense for retailers to observe the better hires and consider them for full time or end-of-year needs?

It could be a win-win situation, if retailers just open their minds to such opportunities, instead of viewing them as a problem time!!! Hmmmmmmmm

Zel Bianco
Guest
14 years 7 months ago
I would argue that the larger seasonal staffs do more harm than good. Yes, there may be more bodies, but empty suits come to mind here. How many times have you been in a store, restaurant and asked a seemingly simple question, and the answer always seems to be, “I have no idea, I just started working here.” Then that person, if they are trying to be helpful, has to go find a manager or another staff member who may know the answer. This leads to the more knowledgeable staff having to baby-sit the less experienced staff and the consumer/patron loses. I was out to dinner the other night and the menu had a big huge note on it for a special drink that sounded good after a rough day. When our waitress came over to take our drink orders, I ordered the special drink. She looked at me like I had two heads and asked “What’s that???” I think that store managers, restaurant managers need to at least cover the basics before sending people… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

This reminds me of the many times I have been to a fast food restaurant, was the only customer, and had to wait 15 minutes while an overstaffed preparation crew stood around dumbfounded. Other times a staff of two or three prepared my meal instantly. It’s not the quantity of employees but the quality. Is this a problem that needs a remedy? It depends on the business model. If I was a restaurant owner, I would mystery shop the competition, seek out their best employees, and offer them jobs rather than waste time hiring warm bodies who turn in job applications.

reza langroudi
Guest
reza langroudi
14 years 4 months ago

Briefly, seasonal workers are generally selected from young and potentially enthusiastic applicants. The level of productive output from such inexperienced personnel in the workplace could vary, depending on the following factors:

1) The quality of induction and the introduction to the job and the relevant tasks and duties that are required.

2) Management style and the dynamics of the workplace, reflecting on the new employees.

3) The nature and the degree of incentives;

This could be the core element of achieving optimum result from a seasonal workers. They need to know that their enthusiasm and going the extra mile in achieving pleasant and professional service to customers are recognised and rewarded by the management.

A set of clear guide lines should clarify the above objectives to the applicants and the system of monitoring the points of values and rewarding procedures. The calculated incentives are the key words which can optimise the enthusiasm and required level of productivity for each seasonal employees, and a worthy exercise to the business in question.

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