How to Prioritize Customer Service When You're Shortstaffed Seven ways to shine in a time of workforce shortage

By Laura McHolm

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We have all experienced the decline in customer service over the past two years. A workforce shortage has resulted in shortened hours of operation, extended on hold wait times and the frustrating experience of a customer service representative unable to answer your questions. Businesses have put service on the back burner. But this is truly an opportunity for your business to stand out.

It's not about being lean and mean — it's about being lean and kind

Service is the art of providing your customers with care and kindness. You don't need a full staff to provide exceptional one-on-one customer care. Think quality over quantity. As a moving company, we needed to shrink the number of moves we performed to deliver the high quality service that has always been part of our DNA and to preserve our five-star reputation. It may sound scary to shrink your business in a time when there is still a high demand. But, what is really scary is the damage to your brand caused by stretching your human resources too thin and delivering sub-par service to your customers. Your hard earned stellar reputation will suffer. Repairing a bad reputation takes years.

Consumer demand is up, but don't let that temptation ruin your business. Be smart and strategic, ask yourself what can my current staff handle? How can we adapt and still provide the care that our customers, guests and clients have come to expect?

Providing great customer service doesn't have to cost you more. In fact, in the long run, great customer service will save you money. It's so much easier (and cheaper) to retain a customer than to attract new ones. Plus, why not turn your customers into raving fans who help you spread the word?

Related: 6 Tips for Increasing Your Customer Lifetime Value

Also, happy customers help you retain your workforce. It's a lovely symbiotic relationship. Treat your team members well so they treat your clients well and your happy clients will treat your team members well. It's the best way to make your team members want to stay with you.

With heart and creativity you can keep your brand thriving and pave the way for future growth. Here are seven ways to maintain excellent customer service even with a lean workforce:

Be old fashioned

First and foremost, love your customers. Get to know your customers and develop relationships with them. If they are a repeat customer, make sure you show you remember them and are happy to see them back. Call them by name and be sure to repeat what they loved last time. If your customers loved their experience, they will want to show their love back. They will return again and again; and refer their friends and family to you. Plus, they'll leave glowing reviews online.

Educate and accommodate

Ensure even your lean staff is thoroughly educated on the service you provide. Your team needs to know the intricacies of your service so they can be nimble and adapt to a customer's needs. Your entire lean team needs the ability to solve problems on the spot, or know who to go to quickly to get a problem solved. Whether your employees are working from your office or remotely, accommodate their schedules to empower them to have work-life flexibility. Set your team up so they can manage their family responsibilities, as well as have time to fully focus on their customer service calls and tasks. A distracted customer representative leads to errors and inefficiencies.


Pick one demographic or one market segment. Focus your communication on that sector. Place your marketing dollars on the channel that reaches the target audience. Give up the other channels. Are they Instagramers? Then, why are you on Facebook? Perhaps, narrow down the products or services you provide. For instance, for a restaurant, it may mean shrinking your menu to make sure each dish on your limited menu is perfectly executed. It's all about delivering impeccable service to ensure your customers come back and tell their friends and family.

Related: Staying Focused: How a Vision Board Will Keep You on Target in 2022


Remind your staff their customers are in the same boat they are. The customer could also be working from home and juggling hats. In some ways, 2022 is easier than the beginning of the pandemic when we were all getting acclimated to the "new norm." But, now we are not all in the same stages of lockdown together and we are not all following a unified set of guidelines. Our situations are fluid and everyone's schedules are different. School schedules are fluctuating, people are working hybrid, etc. We are also all fatigued. We are tired of hearing about shortages and COVID as an excuse for why the service is so poor. Now more than ever, kindness is key. Teach your employees by example to be compassionate to others, and put kindness first.


You may have to reinvent the wheel a bit. With a skeleton crew, think of innovative ways for your customers and guests to opt out of services they were expecting. For example, I recently came across a hotel that committed to donating a meal to the local food bank for each day you opted out of cleaning services. Now that's a win-win-win: the guest feels good, assists the community food bank and lightens the strain on the limited cleaning staff.

Hand out freebies

Always approach your customer service with the "go above and beyond" mentality. Provide special treatment and give a complimentary something, customers love the giveaways. Send them a gift basket as a thank you for their business. And, if you make a mistake, give the customer something before they even complain. For instance, if a dessert took too long to serve, tell them it's comped before the customer comments on the delayed service.

Give back

People are hungry for trustworthy companies. In this era of people questioning motives, if the public sees your business involved in the community, your dependability and your reputation will go up. Charitable support doesn't have to be just giving big bucks. There are many ways to support charities and spread compassion in the community. We provide in-kind support to countless charities. We are always seeking ways our moving services can be of service. By really being involved in the community, you meet like-minded people. Those people spread the word, and send you referrals. And it's really true: the more you give, the more you get back. After all, kindness really is contagious.

Related: Why Entrepreneurs Should Make Charity a Habit

The overall strategy is to focus on people, show them you care. You don't need a full workforce to do that. People want to return to a product or service that makes them feel taken care of and loved. Why not have customers who want more of you, not less? A fast buck is never a lasting fortune. Again, when you focus on people, the sales will follow.

Laura McHolm

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Marketing Consultant, Speaker & Chief of Organized Living

Laura McHolm is the co-founder of NorthStar Moving Company. Her extensive experience and insight is based on entering a male-dominated industry and working to disrupt a service business that lacked service.

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