Improving Customer Service

Issue # 1 of 70 

John T. Self, Ph.D.
By: Dr. John T. Self

What is Customer Service?

What the heck is Customer Service and why is it so hard to define?

When asked to define Customer Service most people get a puzzled, glazed look about them. You can't define it, they'll say. Or when pushed, they'll mutter something about being treated like you want to be treated or it's when you're made to feel at home.

Uh huh. Somehow those are not very satisfying definitions.

Does Customer Service defy definition because it is so warm and fuzzy that it must be experienced rather than quantified? Asked another way, is Customer Service purely subjective and exists only in the eyes of the beholder or is it objective and exist independently of the person?

Whatever it is, most people will say they know it when they see it or experience it. Customer service, whether good or bad, exists whenever there is customer contact or a "moment of truth."

We know it when we go into a department store and get ignored.

We feel it when we go to a restaurant and the staff's priority is with each other and not their customers.

We sense it when we go into a governmental office to ask a question and there is a numbness in answers.

But all those are examples of what customer service is NOT, not what it IS.

First, look at the two words: Customer and Service. When the two come together there are two possible outcomes:

  • they can form a collision that will leave the customer frustrated and angry or
  • it can be a comfortable joining together of two friends that leave the customer satisfied and pleased.

The company is either in synch or out of synch with their customer.

Let me offer one definition:

Customer Service is any contact, whether active or passive, between a customer and a company, that causes a negative or positive perception by a customer.

The perception will be influenced to be either positive or negative by the customer's expectations of the contact having been met, exceeded or disappointed.

Unfortunately Customer Service is so rare nowadays that it could be a tremendous competitive advantage for any company willing to understand and develop the tools necessary to unleash it. It is amazing that it is utilized so little when the effects are so remarkable.

A second, more service oriented definition of Customer Service is that it must be rampant throughout the organization, starting at the top, rewarded and recognized, admired and emulated and must be sustained by being ingrained into the fabric of the company.

That definition reads like a mission statement. When you think about it, maybe it should.

John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academia, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including Chili's and Steak and Ale, and as vice president of a regional restaurant chain overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants, including a comedy club.
Dr. Self has also been involved in the development of international hospitality programs. 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.

Improving Customer Service #1 of 70: View all in the Table of Contents

For more customer service articles, visit the Customer Service series on the new Sideroad: Practical Advice Straight from The Experts.

Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.