Improving Customer Service

Issue # 22 of 70 

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

Marketing versus Reality

Is your Marketing department better than your customer service? Put another way, is your Marketing department's media message promising more than you can deliver? After all, the Marketing department is in the dream making business.

But danger lies when marketing produces customer expectations that exceed reality and produces not dreams but nightmares when customers actually experience your business. The dream makers cannot set higher standards than your customers can hope to experience because it will just mean entering a vicious cycle of advertising, sales, disappointment, loss of sales, then back to advertising to bring back the same sales you had in the first place. Consider the following scenarios:

Your marketing department screams at your customers with billboards, television, radio and newspapers the following:

  • 100% Guest Satisfaction.
  • Money back guarantee.
  • We're committed to excellence.
  • We are here for YOU.
  • YOU are our most important asset.
  • We're listening.

But your employees are mumbling:

  • It's not my department.
  • Can you hold?
  • All customer service representatives are busy.
  • I'm sorry, we're out of that.
  • What did you say again?
  • Just a minute.

This is a classic case of the Marketing department not communicating with Customer Service and Operations. Before any marketing plan is unleashed on an unsuspecting public (a.k.a. your customers), Marketing and Operations must work closely together or disastrous results await.

When coordination has not taken place, the danger is that promises, commitments and guarantees that are advertised may not be met from an Operational standpoint. Not without additional training or staffing.

There have been some truly outstanding marketing programs that have won national awards with advertising campaigns that were inventive, creative, and were ultimately able to cause tremendous public awareness. The marketing department accomplished their task to get people in the door or on the phone to make the sale. But they didn't foresee the repercussions of promising too much. This could have been prevented by using the "C" word, a.k.a. communications.

When customers experience products or services that don't match their expectations, they leave and carry with them much more than just one bad experience. They will each tell an average of 12 people more. This creates the need for advertising to come in again and the vicious cycle starts once more of advertising, increase in sales, customer disappointment, loss of sales, then advertising once again. Talk about job security!

When rolling out an advertising campaign:

  1. Include operations from the beginning.
  2. Be aware of all the effects of increased business.
  3. Staffing requirements will increase not because of increased volume but because of increased levels of service that are expected.
  4. Train AHEAD of the roll-out to ensure that everyone in customer service is ready for increased levels of support.
  5. Put a policy in place to handle customer complaints BEFORE you have problems (and you will).
  6. Customer complaint policy must EXCEED customer expectations any time the customer experience breaks down.
  7. Operations must have a detailed plan on how they are going to implement any changes (retraining, techniques, procedures) well before campaign begins.
  8. Enjoy the elevating of company standards. Everyone benefits.

A closing thought; Bad service happens all by itself, while good service comes from being managed.

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 #22 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.