We all get busy from time to time. The telephone rings non-stop, there is smoke coming out of the fax machine and the customers are charging through the door, all on the day that someone is off sick. It's great to be this busy, but it's also a time when customer service can really suffer. There can be longer than normal delays, tempers can become strained, you can run out of products, the rubbish bins overflow, and so on. As consumers we understand and accept that when a business is busier than usual, the level of customer service tends to suffer.

However, the real problem with businesses that face fluctuating numbers of customers is that the entire focus of the business revolves around the busy times, not the quieter, more normal times, so the entire level of customer service drops.

Several years ago I had a restaurant as a client. They were very busy during the tourism season, which lasted for about three months. For the other nine months of the year they were much quieter, only serving about one-third of the number of diners each day. A mentality had developed in the staff and management that revolved around the three busy months--the rest of the year wasn't taken as seriously.

So, for nine months of the year the service was fairly average and for three months it was good. I had to work hard to change this mentality and remind them that it was essential that their levels of service increased during the off season to ensure the long-term growth of the business. However, as soon as attention was diverted from this ongoing re-education, the old philosophy returned.

Just because you are busy today doesn't mean that you will be busy tomorrow. If a competitor moves in and their products or services are as good as yours and their prices similar, but their customer service is better than yours, you are heading into dangerous waters. Be constantly aware of increasing your level of customer service. Don't slacken off because last week was really busy and you want to take it easier this week. Don't stop doing the little things that make your business not just good, but exceptional.

From my experience, when a business stops focusing attention on customer service, the overall level of service drops rapidly, along with the level of customer satisfaction. And often it never recovers. The new norm is lousy service. The financial impact of this is soon evident and very hard to overcome. As with most business maladies, prevention is better than trying to find a cure.