Improving Customer Service

Issue # 21 of 70 

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

Dead Horses

Conventional wisdom says that customer service is extremely expensive. I have commented several times that it doesn't have to be expensive, but in some areas it does take money and resources. And a commitment to both quantity and quality of these resources can sometimes cost.

In this sense Quantity refers to having the right amount of staff. It is difficult to be taken seriously about a commitment to customer service when customers can't place orders or receive deliveries! As for Quality. . . it is considered bad form if your customer contact people can't answer questions or provide answers quickly to those they don't know.

Both staffing and training can only be dealt with through a commitment of money. No doubt about it. But there are intangibles that don't cost a dime that have tremendous impact on customer's perceptions.

Attitude, caring, attentiveness, a sense of urgency and courtesy can all make a significant improvement in your level of customer service without sending you into bankruptcy.

I'm always impressed when these basics are covered with zest and attitude. The results are striking. Just the basics, mind you: "Yes, ma'am/sir". "I'll find out for you right now". "Not a problem, no trouble at all".

(The exception is my all time favorite annoying run-on sentence that is usually said without eye contact: "Haveanicedaybye" type of nonsense. WHO is the person who first invented "Have a nice day?" Is it not the most shallow, insincere phrase of the Twentieth Century?)

It is the seemingly mundane points which quite often are the most effective and significant points to good customer service. Take a hard look at your own staff, and remember it is often the correct EXECUTION of the commonplace that people most remember. Eye contact coupled with great attitude and a sincere greeting when interacting with customers can make all the difference in the world.

Wasn't it your Mother that said the two most powerful words were "please" and "thank you"? She was right. Listen to her and make sure your people are covering these basic rules.

Finally, conventional wisdom isn't always wrong. For example, conventional wisdom also says to "never beat a dead horse", for obvious reasons.

When circumstances dictate that you must ride a dead horse, the best tactic is to get off and walk. However, in customer service, we often try other tactics with dead horses, including the following:
  • Buy a stronger whip
  • Change riders
  • Say "This is the way we have always ridden this horse"
  • Create a training session to increase our riding ability
  • Compare the state of dead horses in today's environment
  • Harness several dead horses together to increase speed
  • Declare that "No horse is too dead to beat."
  • Provide additional funding to increase the horse's performance.
  • Purchase a product to make dead horses run faster
  • Declare that dead horses run better, faster and cheaper when dead than alive.
  • Form a quality circle to find uses for dead horses.
  • Revisit the performance requirements for horses
  • Promote the dead horse into a management position.

Don't let your customer service be a dead horse. Don't throw money into training and staffing without correcting the commonplace.

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