Thanks for the question, Jack. Here's some ideas that I incorporated in my book, Perfect Phrases For Customer Service.
When a customer jumps the queue/line and the employee serves the more aggressive customer first, other
customers get justifiably angry and they are likely to blame the employee for not managing the lineup fairly
and efficiently. What do you do?
Defusing Customers Techniques Used
Verbal Softeners (1)
Face-Saving Out (2)
Example Dialogue For Customer Line Jumping
This situation could occur in any context where people line up for service—grocery stores, other retail establishments, banks, hotels, and restaurants.There’s a line of five people waiting to be served and a sixth person steps into the middle of the line. Before any of the other customers says anything, the employee intervenes.
Employee: [To the customer who has pushed in.] Perhaps you didn’t notice that the line actually ends after this
gentleman (1). If you could move to the end, I’ll be glad to serve you in turn.
Customer: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see that.
Employee: No problem. It’s easy to miss (2).
Explaining The Line-Jumping Example
In this situation it’s important to point out that the customer has jumped the line without doing anything that might humiliate or embarrass him or her. In (1) the employee uses a very gentle way to let the customer know about the line, careful not to accuse the customer. The word “perhaps” is a good example of a verbal softener.
Notice the difference in tone between what the employee said and the following: “Hey, you jumped the line. Get back to the end.” Quite different.
In (2), you can see an example of a similar technique, providing a “Face-Saving Out.” Since the customer has apologized, the employee can soften any embarrassment by making it OK, indicating that it’s a mistake that’s easy to make. That ends the interaction on a positive note.
It’s important to monitor the line in order to address “pushing-in” issues before another customer does. You don’t want two customers arguing about something that is ultimately your responsibility.
When a customer cuts in, you can’t know whether it’s an intentional act of rudeness and inconsideration or simply a result of inattention. Always give the benefit of the doubt. To accuse a customer of pushing in intentionally is almost always guaranteed to start an argument.
Even if you have a strong suspicion it was intentional, you must start with a gentle approach. Always use the least possible “force” first.