Improving Customer Service

Issue # 10 of 70 

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

Knocking off Goliath: How to beat "Big Business" at Customer Service!

Can the little guy really compete in today's supercharged, big bucks market? The answer is a qualified yes.

It is qualified because it takes extra money and a commitment that cannot just equal bigger companies, it has to blow them away. This commitment takes resources in the form of training, leadership and policies.

Small business has two potential advantages over bigger companies. First, small companies should have the ability to adapt quicker than the larger, more bureaucratic companies. Of course, this can actually cause more harm than good if policies continually change rather than follow carefully laid out customer service plans.

Second, small companies should be able to stay in closer touch with their customers thus delivering more personal based service than their larger cousins. It is this public expectation that small equals personal that can hurt more than help if small companies do not deliver.

To compete, small companies must have customer service ingrained in every thread of company fabric.

Here is a priority list that that will help small companies in their quest to win customer service battles and ultimately stay in the war.

  • Customer service must have significant impact on management and employee performance evaluations. It has to be clear that the path to promotions and raises is through a continuing demonstration of customer service.

  • There must be clear penalties for management and employees who do not perform with a commitment to customer service. These are the people who invariably say "Sorry, I'm not in that department" or "I don't know" without any effort to help their unfortunate customers. The commitment to customer service will not survive if management tolerates mediocre behavior.

  • Sometimes it isn't the people you fire that affects your business, but the ones you should fire but don't. Peer pressure will eventually cause negative people to leave on their own.

  • Liberal use of rewards, incentives and praises for outstanding customer service will make a difference. Reinforcement must be geared to influencing positive employee behavior rather than just short term gain.

  • Guarantees must be ironclad and customer friendly. Randomly call customers who had to use the guarantee. Were they pleased with the experience? Make sure they are.

  • Eliminate routine paperwork for your repeat customers. Make it effortless.

  • Stress customer names. Personal attention is always welcome.

  • Leadership must make customer service a priority. The President of FedEx receives a list of all late-deliveries and non-deliveries each day, then calls each person responsible on that list. There is no doubt what the leadership priority is.

  • Technicians need to have positive, can-do attitudes as well as competency! The time of the sullen, loner technician is over.

  • Repairs or callbacks need to be accomplished with a sense of urgency.

  • Employees must be trained to react to each customer's specific needs.

  • Employees need the ability to take care of problems as close to the customer as possible.

  • Stress excellent phone etiquette with quick access to answers of common questions.

  • Share information. I received a note from my cable company that a new channel package would be coming available. When I called, I was told they didn't know anything about it and didn't volunteer to find out. Somebody dropped the ball.

The bottom line of course, is customer satisfaction. All you have to do is ask them, they'll tell you.

Of course, all the above can be done by any size company, but only the companies that have a true customer service commitment will actually do all of them. Check the phone book. Note your competition. Then check the phone book next year.

It is an easy way to judge who delivers customer service. Watch them. They're the ones that are moving past the competition.

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 #10 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.