Improving Customer Service

Issue # 38 of 70 

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

The Customer of Tomorrow

It is kind of fun to be a futurist predicting demographics, products and consumer tastes. Few of us do this, finding that predicting the present is tough enough.

Some companies attempt futuristic thinking by hiring a futurist, although they give them the much more corporately correct title of strategic planner. It just wouldn't do to be called a futurist, even though that is exactly what they are or at least what they are hired to be.

This is not a wasted or frivolous position at all. Companies that do invest in strategic planning are investing in the future lifeblood of their company. It is an attempt to keep their company vibrant and profitable. It is a potentially major competitive advantage.

Sometimes they hit bullseyes and sometimes they are merely close. Examples of futuristic bullseyes are the Minivan, Mustang, and Utility Vehicles. Examples of close is the McDonalds unBurger and Burger King's thinking that the public wanted seating hostesses. People say they want to eat less fat, yet love their burgers. Hence, the death of the unburger. However, the thinking was good, just not accurate. People may eat healthily at home, but not when they go out to eat.

To predict the customer of the future is extremely difficult because they are constantly changing. Demographics are shifting, tastes changing, population centers are moving. Then throw in strong unemployment, a bull stock market, potential wars, strikes and the list goes on--you get the picture.

The customer of tomorrow will be even more sophisticated than the customer of today. The twenty-first century customer will be savvier and have even higher expectations than today's customer. It is the obligation of each of us in the service industry to assume the responsibility of raising the level of service in America(and beyond) and, likewise, to raise the expectations of our customers.

The best way to educate our customers is to be the first in each industry segment to raise the bar. Teach your customer to have high expectations through favorable experiences at your company and encourage them to shop at your competitors'. You should feel confident that they will the see the difference. If you don't have that confidence, you now know what you have to do and consequently your goals will be clear.

The bottom line is that to go into the 21st century each company must concentrate on retaining today's customer with superior service through the best trained and cared for employees possible. It is still about service and employees; it always has been and always will be.

To close this column, I would like to invoke the immortal words of Ben Franklin: "The taste of the roast depends on the handshake of the host."

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 #38 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.