Improving Customer Service

Issue # 14 of 70 

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

The Toughest Customer Service: Unglamorous, Down and Dirty

Is customer service epitomized by big jobs that take months to consummate or is it really personified by the jobs where outcomes take only moments?

The latter are very special customer service jobs that all share two basic characteristics: their customer service is measured instantaneously and each transaction is personal because both are on a one-to-one basis. They are an in-the-trenches, in-your-face, kind of customer service.

Lexus cars, cell phones, and frequent flyer mileage are not part of this world.

It is kind of like comparing them with the soldiers of World War I, when soldiers saw the face of their enemy as opposed to later wars when the fighting was miles away through missiles and no one had a face.

I'm referring, of course, to the employees of the service industry. The servers, grocery clerks, cabbies, bellhops, hair stylists and others who earn their living by giving customer service, one customer at a time.

In the world of the service industry, each and every customer has a face and a personality. Each transaction is personal. Each shift exposes the service person's attitudes and training.

Next time you're in one of those service establishments, step back, blend into the background for a little while and just observe. Chances are you'll realize that these jobs are tough, under-appreciated, and often taken-for-granted. But what will also be clear is how obvious the evidence of training and attention to customer service there is.

When training has taken place it is immediately obvious because service appears seamless, comfortable and without effort. When no customer service training has occurred it is also immediately evident by the transactions being awkward and strained resulting in the smallest flaws magnified and a chore to get accomplished.

The most difficult part of training customer service in the service industry is to get the attention of the management that customer service is the most cost effective way to build customer loyalty. The training necessary to accomplish this should be thought of as an investment and not just an expense. The effectiveness of customer service reflects the supervisor's attitudes of their company, customers and their employees. Once the attention is there, customer service has a chance to take a foothold.

Getting this attention is difficult and reminds me of the story of the mule:

The man told his friend that his mule always obeyed his every command. But, when the man yelled "giddy-up" the mule just stood there until the man hit the animal on the nose with a two-by-four. As the mule started to walk the man's friend said, "why'd you do that? I thought you said he obeyed every command?" "He always does", the man answered. "But first you have to get his attention".

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 #14 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.