Problem Solver: What's your line on solving the issue of slow-moving queues?
Q: I was caught up in a lengthy "bag drop" queue at an airport recently and almost missed my flight. No one seemed to be focused on the customers, and I can recall this was one of the areas where Superquinn stood out. What lessons can our airports learn?
A: There is nothing more frustrating than completing your part of the transaction, then having to stand in a lengthy queue which seems to be moving at a snail's pace.
I read with interest that one American supermarket group has invested heavily in technology which counts the customers in the front door and has been programmed to count how long it takes them to shop on average. It is able to predict ahead of any queue building up, how many check-outs need to be open at any given time. It's claimed it has halved the queuing time compared to three years ago.
Where you encounter a business that has constant queues and there is no apparent urgency in reducing them, it usually suggests to me that customer service isn't a priority at the top of the organisation.
In Superquinn, it was one of the things I was passionate about as I understood the frustration of a customer who might have been collecting children from school, or attending a family event being stuck at a check out for what seemed like an eternity. We went so far as guaranteeing the customer, we would give them additional points on their loyalty scheme if there was an available check-out to be opened and we did not react within three minutes.
I would also encourage our managers at peak time over Christmas to spend all of their time at the check-out area, marshalling queues and talking with customers. It's amazing what happens when a manager takes this on as a priority.
By its nature, an airport will always have queues but I think it would be interesting to have a look and see how many senior management are present in the queue with customers the next time you are flying!
Q: I am planning to retire from the family business within the next five years. Is there any particular advice you can give me on things to consider?
A: My standard advice to anyone who asks this question, is that it usually takes around five years to pass business from one generation to the next successfully, so your timing couldn't be better.
You need to be ready to gradually let go and there is no point in you pretending that you are willing to hand over, and yet continue to interfere in items you have already delegated to your successor.
I often find in small to medium-sized family businesses that the parents do not have a conversation with the son or daughter taking over until it is too late. Sit down with the family member/members and listen clearly to what their objectives are and set out your own. Be upfront with your conversations, and ensure that everyone is aware of each other's position.
While there will be lots of aspects in the business that you want to upskill the person on, do be mindful that they will want to bring new skills and ideas to the business and you will need to accommodate this. There will be a fine line by you supporting with words of wisdom, and overly interfering and preventing change.
It might be an idea further on that you start to pull back on the hours you are working and hand over more of the executive functions to the new person. Finally it would be wise to involve an external expert to do a couple of sessions with the entire family in terms of succession planning.
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