Improving Customer Service

Issue # 36 of 70 

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

The Etymology of Customer Service

customer n. 1 One who buys something; especially one who deals regularly at a given establishment.

custom n. 1 The habitual practice of a community or a people; Established usage. 2 Habitual patronage, as a hotel, store, etc. Syn:See habit [L. to become used to].

habit n. & v. An act or practice so frequently repeated as to become relatively fixed in character and almost automatic in performance. -to repeat a certain action frequently.

The single, most obvious thought that wends its way through the progression of the word customer is the continued thread that customers are frequent, regular or habitual. When you think about it, this is the essence of customer service: building relationships that will cause a frequency of visits. Without frequency, customers are not customers, but merely purchasers or buyers.

Good customer service causes repeat business. The mission of your salespeople, whether they are servers at a restaurant, outside sales representatives or phone representatives, should be that of building relationships. Only then will the transformation from buyer or purchaser into customer take place. If it isn't so, it should be.

Service n. & v. [L. condition of slaves] -n. 1 The occupation or function of serving. 2 The work performed by one that serves. 3 Contribution to the welfare of others.

Servant n. One that performs duties about the person of a master or personal employee.

Serve v. To help persons to food: a) To wait at table b) To set out portions of food and drink. C) To wait on customers. d) To give the service and respect due.

Server n. One who serves food or drink

Wait v. To stay in place in expectation of something or someone.

It is interesting that such divergent feelings and meanings can be drawn from the definitions above. On the one side, the word "service" and its derivatives can bring about strong negative impressions. After all, many of the words can conjure up an almost resigned sense of hopelessness if one thinks that their job approaches slavery or servitude.

But I prefer to see service differently. There are many wonderful, positive images that come from "service" as well. Words such as aid, help, benefit and assist all come from the act of serving and service. Those are good words. Those are honorable words for an honorable mission and honorable profession. But maybe "customer service" should really be flipped around so that it is "service customers". I mean isn't it through service that customers are made?

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.