Improving Customer Service

Issue # 13 of 70 

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

Getting Beyond Prejudice

Everyone is prejudiced. Even (gasp) me. For example, I really, really hate beets. Sorry, but there it is. Out in the open. I know that separation exists between church and state, but there should also be separation between me and beets. And beets and I. But I digress.

Do your customer contacts have prejudices? Of course they do. But, do their customers perceive this prejudice? Do their customers feel this prejudice? You better hope not.

Servers for example, have prejudices against serving teachers, for their lean tips are legendary. Hairdressers, cabbies, valets and bellhops all have certain groups that for one reason or another, have learned from either word of mouth or experience, to anticipate bad tips from kids for example. But it is this type of stereotyping that causes problems.

In training, it must be brought up often that the old cliché "you can't tell a book by its cover" became a cliché because it was based on the truth. You really can't tell by appearance. The best tip I ever saw given to a server was by a guy who looked like he drove the proverbial turnip truck that people are continually falling off. He tipped his server $200 for treating him and his family, which included several kids, with respect and attention. The server was dumbfounded because she had taken it for granted that she was not going to receive a tip. I have seen this story repeat itself many times.

Try this little test.

Go to a clothing store or a car sales place while dressed to mow the lawn. Better yet, mow the lawn first, then go. Now dress up and go to the same place. I'll bet you are treated differently and predictably. (It's your own version of Pretty Woman.)

These situations do not have to be. Here are four ways to help correct them:

1) Review your interview process. Are there ways to identify negative behaviors before they represent your company?

2) Review the employee orientation process. This is when your employees are at their most impressionable. Emphasize hospitable behavior and attitude and stress how labeling is contradictory to excellent customer service.

3) Spend training dollars on changing the behaviors of your employees rather than attempting to change their attitudes.. Is attitude or behavior more important to customer service? The answer is - Behavior. Every time. Demanding a good attitude is impossible, but spending training dollars on changing behavior makes good sense.

4) Have a zero tolerance policy with any type labeling behavior. Then follow with an open, warm attitude to everyone that reinforces excellent customer service. Remember the subtle words of Al Capone: "A kind word and a gun will get you further than a kind word alone".

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 #13 of 70: View all in the Table of Contents

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