Improving Customer Service

Issue # 19 of 70 

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

Customer Service Isn't Brain Surgery. . .It's Worse!

How many times have you heard that customer service is not rocket science or brain surgery? This is usually mentioned in a way that is meant to imply that customer service is not complicated. That it is simple, easy to understand and easy to execute.

How wrong that thinking is.

Think about it. Brain surgery is complicated, right? Right, but there's complicated and then there's complicated. Let's do a comparison between brain surgery and customer service. Humor me.

Each time a brain is operated on the surgeon finds the cerebrum and the cerebellum in the exact same place each time. Amazing. Each person's brain is the same, regardless of age, sex or nationality. Each incision is made with the knowledge that precisely what lies below is going to be there. Think about it. Each time.

The surgeon also has a whole battery of equipment that can be used to see through the skin and bones before the operation to help even more with the preciseness of the operation. It would be a bit more challenging for the surgeon (to say nothing about the patient) if the brain was different for each operation and there were no way to see into the brain.

The challenge is certainly there for the customer service industry.

Where brain surgery is precise and exacting, the customer service experience is imprecise and unexacting. Brain surgery is the total opposite of customer service. Where each brain is the same, each customer is different, with none ever the same.

Each customer brings his or her own level of expectations, experience and knowledge in collision (at its worst) or mutual benefit (at its best) with the employee each time they come together. And to complicate things even more, each customer service employee brings their own level of experience, ability and desire into the mix.

How much more complicated can something be than dealing with two, continuously changing variables with almost no fixed, stable components? We don't have sonograms, catscans and tissue samples that can tell us precisely what technique to use for a particular customer. How can you possibly forecast what will happen?

The answer of course, is that you can't.

The result of the impreciseness of customer service is the lingering perception that customer service is in such a sad state that when it is executed well, it is extremely noticeable, almost shocking. It is kind of like Samuel Johnson said when he saw a dog walking on his hind legs "It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." We need to evolve Customer Service to the point where excellence is not rare, not the exception, but commonplace.

When people say that customer service is not brain surgery, they're right; It's much more difficult.

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 #19 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.