Improving Customer Service

Issue # 16 of 70 

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

Are you stressing out your employees? - Creating a supportive environment

Stress and customer service go together like love and marriage. They have been intertwined since someone first realized that customers will go elsewhere if there is no service to back it up. However, a corollary is that whenever service and customers come together stress is not far behind. Since the majority of our employees are human there is little doubt they are affected by stress. I believe it is the major reason for "burnout", regardless of the service industry.

Not all stress is bad of course. Some stress creates a heightened sense of accomplishment caused by the stress of urgency. There is also found in all service industries certain kinds of unavoidable stress that just goes with the territory: customers who must vent at someone, customers who are just plain obnoxious, or it may be just many small incidents that occur in a small amount of time that results in stress. All the above are normal, unavoidable and usually recoverable.

But the stress that typically causes employee burnout is caused not by the customer, but by the environment created by management. For example, take a look at your exit interviews (you do them don't you?). Now look at them again. Are you reading just what is on the surface or are you really looking at the root cause that is there?

When customer service personnel know that management treats each employee as an individual, has created an environment that is supportive, and understands that stress is a part of the business day, they will be able to tolerate and bounce back from even the worst day. Here are points to observe to create that supportive environment:

Know your employees. Each employee works for a different reason, whether for recognition, advancement or just wanting to be "shown the money". Management must know those reasons otherwise productivity and attitudes will suffer.

Management must have consistent moods. Even if you are a jerk, at least be a jerk every day. Jekyl and Hyde management only confuses everyone.

Be consistent in rules and structure. Even the tightest rules are tolerable if they are consistently enforced.

Analyze your rules. Are there any that don't make sense? Are there some that even management hate to enforce? Identify and eliminate them or at least come to some kind of compromise. This will not be seen as a sign of weakness, but as a strength.

Let your employees vent. Listen to them. Don't judge. Don't fix. Just listen.

Honor work schedules. Do not try to force your part time employees to be full time employees. You may succeed in coercing them to work in the short term, but the risk of losing them permanently or damaging a great attitude is not worth the risk. They, like you, expect commitments to be honored.

Your employees want to do well. They didn't hire themselves and they didn't start to work by expecting anything less than success.

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 #16 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.