Improving Customer Service

Issue # 26 of 70 

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

Standards of Service

Customer focus. Customer friendly. Customer Service. Whatever you label IT, IT means one thing. Your company has made promises to its customers in the form of advertising and slogans. Now all you have to do is keep those promises. Or to put it another way, to do what you say you will do.

After your marketing department pumps out slogans it is operations that must make customer service happen. When it doesn't happen, people won't blame the slogans, they'll blame the customer contact person and from there, the company.

An analogy is that of a track relay race. For the team to have a chance to win, each member must participate to his or her full capability. The first relay runner can't be the only member going full out, nor can the last or the second or the third. No, each has to run hard and believe that "There's only one way to run this motor and that's wide open".

Marketing and management must be equals and share the same vision, mission and philosophy.

When marketing has done its job and the customer uses your product, the baton is passed. The customer has the expectation built from marketing and has a level of expectation that must be satisfied or the experience will be a negative one.

It is just another example that the instant a customer comes in contact with a company, whether a billion dollar corporation or a sole proprietor, the slogans are forgotten. The flash and the sizzle are gone. It is the people and the service derived from the people that will keep your customers and bring them back.

Service will bring them back. Service creates loyalty. It is like your first resume out of college where you highlighted courses taken and GPA and being assistant to the assistant vice president of the fraternity or sorority. But, once you have one job under your belt, you will never use them again. Like advertising slogans they help get your foot, or in this case, your customer's foot in the door. After the door is opened, you have to produce and deliver the service that was promised.

But how do you do this?

You do this by establishing standards for your service personnel. Standards make for consistency for customers. That makes customers comfortable with your operation, and that paves the ground for repeat business.

Though most companies have standards, many of these terrible! Why?

Because if they cannot be defined, measured or enforced, then the standards won't work. In fact, they can't work. They're doomed from the start.

I have a friend who owns several retail businesses. He asked me to do a service audit for him. One of the biggest issues that came out were his standards.

Yes, he had standards; in fact, he was very proud of them. But his standards were not useable and his employees knew it. They were vague, unmeasurable, not focused on the customer, and not ingrained into the employee's job description.

Example - the standard of when they should answer the phone was "quickly". Quickly. How would you define quickly? What takes precedence, the phone or a real live customer standing in front of you? 2 rings? 10 rings? Do you think there was a sense of urgency to answer the phone from his employees? If you guessed no, you were right.

We implemented many defined standards, including answering the phone within a certain number of rings. Easily defined and customer oriented. His employees liked the approach also, because it took the burden off them to guess at the standards.

Employees like standards, especially high standards. It makes everyone feel good about themselves and their job. Now they knew what was expected of them and there was now a true standard. The bar had been built. Now they could begin to raise the bar.

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 #26 of 70: View all in the Table of Contents

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