Improving Customer Service

Issue # 17 of 70 

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

The Cubic Zirconia Rule

Everyone has heard of the Golden Rule (Treat others the way you want to be treated) and by now, most people have heard of the Platinum Rule (Treat people the way they want to be treated, not the way you want to be treated). Both are nice and trendy, but I would like to propose yet another rule - the Cubic Zirconia Rule, which states, "Treat others the way the policies and procedures state and do not deviate".

This kind of faux customer service can actually look, feel and even sound like real customer service, but it isn't. It can't be. Why?

Because sincerity and flexibility are both missing.

The Cubic Zirconia Rule is used by companies who do not see their employees as an asset but rather as a liability. For that reason they would rather eliminate the employee variable completely out of the customer service equation.

Everyone's been exposed to canned customer service. We're all familiar with them. Employees dutifully reciting the Customer Service Du Jour: "Let's see...since you just asked question A, then I should respond with answer B."

Problems arise when customers don't ask exactly what is expected of them, which is the majority of the time. Or if the company has anticipated all options (a mistake in itself). . .and so the manual becomes so large that it is unusable even to the most intrepid employee. Either way the mistake is thinking that customer service is a quantitative process. It is not.

This leads me to my favorite soapbox, the big red one over there that has the word EMPLOYEES on it. For customer service to be effective it must come from the hearts of your employees and not be dependent on rote memory or any manual. In other words, the focus must be on your employees rather than programs or even (GASP) your customers.

I once had a severe argument (oops, I mean discussion) with a boss of mine over an example of this. When I said that it was more important to have good intentions than stick with procedures or policies, he blew up. He fumed that it was exactly like a football game. When a coach comes up with a game plan and tells each player their assignments, the players are expected to stick to those assignments. His rationale was that it is the coach's game plan, not yours. Good intentions are just excuses for not following assignments.

I disagreed then, and I still disagree. I would always opt for my employees to deviate from corporate policy as long as their intentions were for the customer. Give me an employee with good intentions toward their customers and I'll show you true, sincere customer service, not the canned, Cubic Zirconia kind that doesn't work. I will always take the "long shot" of the quirkiness of good employees over the "sure thing" of a policy any day. I like those odds.

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.

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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.