Improving Customer Service

Issue # 31 of 70 

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

Knowing What You Don't Know

Every time I put on a customer service workshop the same thought goes through my mind - several conditions must have occurred for this workshop to have taken place:

  • There had to have been someone that was the driving force
  • They weren't satisfied with the current level of customer service
  • They believe that their staff can do better
  • They believe that their product and company and ultimately their customer deserves better
  • They believe strongly enough in raising customer service that they are willing to dedicate resources (time and money)
  • Customer service is a priority and the way to customer service is through their people

Having the workshop is one outward sign of an immense amount of commitment to the company, staff and products. As well as vulnerability and belief in their people. Overall, the workshop signifies much more than just a workshop. Quite a lot, really.

Why does this show honesty, vulnerability and belief in their people? Couldn't it just as easily be interpreted as a lack of confidence in their managers and employees?

It is a sign of honesty because the executives admit that there are areas of improvement that are needed and it is a sign of vulnerability when you can admit this.

Having workshops or retreats is a sign of trust in your employees because you are committing time and money on their development. By making each one better able to succeed the company has helped them as individuals and helped the company as well. Continuous short term development will yield long term customer loyalty.

When companies expose their weaknesses to their employees they turn into strengths because they invariably bring teams and companies together through joint ownership. Managers and staff want to share the problems and come up with the solutions. But first they have to know they exist.

When this cohesiveness occurs, customer service will take off to new levels that were once thought impossible. The employees will not only point out problems (opportunities) but also the solutions to the problems.

How many other companies are not honest with themselves? How many don't know what they don't know? They are content with the smug assumption that their level of customer service is satisfactory. Never mind that their sales are flat. Never mind an increase in customer complaints. Never mind that turnover is high. Every thing is fine.

Many compaines grow quickly and consequently have to (or want to) promote from within. Developmental workshops are beneficial and often critical for this stage of management. New managers probably know the technical side of their jobs, but need development in becoming better supervisors, better motivators, and becoming more confident in their dealings with customers. They don't need the sink or swim attitude that is so common. The company can build tremendous loyalty with the managers by showing them that they are important and the company cares about their future success.

When companies do not invest in their managers, any short term savings leads to long term expenses of turnover and even more training that will start the cycle once again.

To not know what you don't know is risky. Find out and take corrective actions. Your staff will respond and your customers will show their appreciation with increased loyalty.

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 #31 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.