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What messages are customers
reading into your signs?

Two businesses. A common problem. Too few staff and not enough applicants to fill the vacancies. A chronic problem in Fort McMurray’s overheated economy, where most organizations – retailers, school boards, the Health Region, oil sands plants, social agencies, restaurants and hotels – seem to be in a constant recruitment mode. With jobs so readily available, turnover is high, making an already difficult situation even more challenging.

Given these circumstance, customer service can easily slip. Managers know that with fewer staff they will be unable to meet their service standards or customers’ expectations. Against this background, two businesses posted the messages found in the box accompanying this article.

While the decisions to post both signs were motivated by similar frustrations brought on by short staffing, they struck me as being different in tone: they reflected contrasting attitudes towards customers.

We at canadian tire strive to provide good customer service, however, due to the chronic staff shortages in Fort McMurray we apologize if our service is not always up to par. Please be patient with our staff, as they are hard to find.
— computer-generated sign posted in Canadian Tire store

What I saw in the first sign [above] is an admonishment to accept things as they are. Accept poor service, because that is the best we can do. Be patient with our staff, because if you’re not, you will make them quit. That will make service even worse, and it will be your fault.

The bank’s message [below] is different, and in my mind, more positive. We know we have a problem here that is causing you inconvenience. We accept that it is our problem, not yours. But we can suggest alternatives that will make it easier (and quicker) to do business with us. Our staff is ready to help find a solution suitable for you.

Due to staff shortages, you will unfortunately experience longer than normal waiting times in our customer service line. Please ask one of our representatives how you can do your banking much quicker with Automated Banking Machines, Telephone Banking and Online Banking.
— handwritten sign displayed in Bank of Montreal branch

Check the signs around your business or office. Look at them through the eyes of customers. What attitude towards customers do they communicate? Are you telling customers what to do, or what you can do for them? Do your signs make customers feel welcome? Or do they scream, “Go away. We’re too busy. Customers are such an inconvenience.”

As for me, I have decided how I can contribute to improved service at both locations. I will used the automated banking machine more often and do my hardware shopping elsewhere.


Nelson Scott offers several Customer Service Presentations, including Customer Service MAGIC: Changing Complainers into Loyal Customers; What Your Mother Taught You About Customer Service and other Training Resources developed by Service Quality Institute and the Vital Learning Corporation.


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© Nelson Scott.  All rights reserved.

A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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