I was at a trade show for the baby industry last week. One of those smaller shows with limited vendors and limited hours. My agenda was packed. One of my main vendors went out of business earlier this year and I was searching for a replacement. I had to budget most of my time for one product category while I skimmed through the others.
You know exactly what I'm talking about.
One of those skimmed booths had a bunch of new introductions. I needed a new price list and catalog. I slowed down my pace to take in all the new stuff before I reached the table where the lone person was staffing the booth.
She was sitting behind a table conversing with another person, presumably a customer.
I was about to interrupt to ask for information and be on my way, but someone else stepped in front of me and asked the same question. And then I heard it. A response that stopped me dead in my tracks. I shook my head, hoping I had heard wrong.
"Can't you see I'm talking to someone right now?!"
Yes, that is exactly what I heard. Not only did the guy who asked the question walk away, I walked away, too. Emailed my rep the next day for the information I needed.
This is a multi-million dollar subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar company and all they could send to the show was one person who did not know how to handle a crowd.
Other crowded booths got it. Either they brought in enough people or they knew how to handle a crowd.
They said, "Will you excuse me, while I go greet that other person? I will be right back." They asked my permission to leave (which I granted), went over to the other person and said, "Hey, thanks for stopping by. I'm working with Phil right now. Will you give me a couple minutes to finish up with him?" to which they also granted him permission and promised to wait for his return.
If you're running your business the right way you will have moments where the customers needing help outnumber the employees available to help them. How you handle those moments will go a long way towards how many more of those moments you will get.
Ask permission to leave the first customer to greet the second customer. You will always get it.
Ask permission from the second customer to finish with the first customer. You will always get it.
Always be polite and gracious.
The better you handle the crowd, the more crowds you will get.
PS This is an easy skill to train your staff. Make a game out of it by having them all ask each other's permission to do crazy and goofy things. Get them in the habit of always asking customers' permission. It puts the customer in control, gets the customer to buy-in and often will get the customer to wait for your return.
PPS If you find yourself getting too many crowds, time to hire more staff. As my grandfather always said, "Plan for Success".