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By: Dr. John T. Self

Customer Service Principles

Throughout business history, companies have introduced grand strategies designed to raise their levels of customer service. They soon discovered, however, that the strategies were the easy part. Getting employees to buy into the strategy and make it work proved more difficult. Not surprisingly, results were usually doomed to failure from the start.

This inability to "close the deal" has been a perennial cause of puzzlement and frustration to company executives. They assumes that once strategies are unveiled, employees will implement the program in such a way that customers notice an increased level of customer service.

Wrong. Not only do sales and service not rise; morale goes down with them! The reason? The assumption that customer service can improve without employee commitment.

All too often, management forgets that strategies and programs start and end with their people. This assumption is a throwback to the thinking of the American Industrial Age when employees were reduced to a component of production, not unlike a piece of equipment.

Industrial age thinking was based on the concept that employees did not want to work and were definitely not concerned enough to do quality work. Employees were given orders, and except for breakdowns (injury or illness), tasks were grudgingly completed.

Of course time has proven again and again that employees DO want to work, they DO enjoy their work, and they want to care about the quality of their work. Research has shown that work plays a huge part in a person's self esteem, self worth and personal happiness.

To turn your strategy into reality, you must create an environment that builds employee pride and quality. It is absolutely vital that customer service be a long-term, everyday commitment that employees believe in. Otherwise, employees will think it just another passing management fad that will fade away after a brief flurry of activity like so many other programs. They've seen it all before and if they don't believe it, it won't succeed.

To illustrate the difference in employee attitudes consider this parable. An observer passed by two job sites and asked one employee from each what they were doing.

Employee one: I'm working like hell for too little money.

Employee two: I'm building a cathedral.

Notice any difference in attitude? One was sold on the project and therefore became part of it, while the other was merely a part of the machine. Which employee would you want representing your establishment?

Customer Service Principles:

  • Commit to excellent customer service. Live it, breathe it, believe it, and reward it.
  • Sell the employees on the whole, not just their part.
  • Ensure that any Marketing initiatives emphasize your employees, not just your products. When morale and pride go up, you can bet services and sales will go up. Make your employees feel they are part of an elite group.
  • Ensure all customer contact employees have autonomy to accommodate their customers, even if it means bending company rules. Then take a hard look at those bent rules, and see if they need to be discarded entirely.
  • Be better than your competitor by knowing your competitor. Take your key people out to a competitor's operation, and talk about what works there and what doesn't (after you've left, of course.)
  • Finally, keep the focus on your people: They ARE your business!

About the author:  John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academe, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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