Improving Customer Service

Issue # 23 of 70 

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

Heart and Soul

Remember, there are two ultimate secrets to success in business:

Number One - Never tell everything you know.

Do you ever wonder if you have the heart of your employees?

There is a very easy litmus test for this; just find out if they act the same when you are there as when you're not there. If they care when you're not around, then you've gotten their heart. If you've succeeded in reaching their heart, then you've won the customer service battle and you should be justifiably proud. Your employees will take care of the customers because they want to, not because they have to. (The most celebrated current version of this is Southwest Airlines. Amazing what they have done. Leadership has created an employee first environment that can't help but create positive results.)

I've experienced this only once myself, a long time ago, when the earth was cooling. It was when I was a new manager with Steak and Ale restaurants. The feeling that we were the best managers, with the best product with the best customer service was indeed heady stuff.

What happens to make the environment less than postive? To make employees only produce desired results when they know they are being watched? Many things, of course, because there are many managers. But there are some simple things that any manager can do:

  • To the group, act fairly, act consistently, and act with structure.
  • To the individual, act flexibly, act individually, and act with caring.

These are not oxymorons or contradictions. People want structure and they want fairness. They also want to be treated as individuals. Each with unique expectations and needs. A single female doesn't necessarily want to win football tickets or a trip to the shopping center, just as an older married guy may not feel that it is his lucky day to win two concert tickets to the Counting Crows. It is really just a takeoff of the "Think global, act local".

Some hints and tips:

Don't call your employees at home unless it's a true emergency. Unless you have a bad case of micromanagerism or have a control problem, you probably don't like being called at home at all. I know one manager that left explicit instructions not to call him at home except for two reasons: blood or flood.

If they are part-time employees, remember that they are part-timers. Don't schedule them with full-time expectations. When you do, you will have no- timers very soon.

When your employees or managers come back from having time off, don't hit them with all the problems that came up while they were gone. If they did everything they could do before they left for vacations, they did all they could do. Let it go. This is a terrible practice that will only engender bad feelings and hostility eventually.

Have the courage to lead.

Be a leader, not just a manager. Remember, the lead sled dog is the only one with a decent view.

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 #23 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.