Improving Customer Service

Issue # 43 of 70 

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

Anchored In The Past

It is a sad point of fact, but I get many e-mails describing how miserable managers are in their present jobs. They tell of long hours, uncaring environments, and of course, burnout.

Why? Why is this necessary? If managers feel this way, just imagine how their employees must feel. What is it going to take for the service industry to finally get into the present by concentrating their resources and using them to back up their managers and employees? Let's think long term, not just this month.

What is especially interesting about all this is that everyone knows that it is true. It would create an environment that everyone could benefit from, first and foremost the company. Training costs would go way down, not to mention stress, and morale would go way up, hand in hand with sales.

But no. We service companies are anchored in the past. Firmly.

It just does not make sense.

We all know that it is difficult to find good employees. They are a scarce commodity and only going to get scarcer, especially in these great-economy, low-unemployment times. But what is our answer to this? We bus in employees from other units; we stretch coverage, pretending that our employees can 'handle it' because it is only temporary. Even worse yet, we lower our standards of hiring.

The inevitable results are lower sales, higher stress, and even higher recruiting and training costs.

Anchored in the past.

Back when labor was cheap and unemployment was higher, there was a seemingly endless supply of applicants who couldn't wait to work for you. Those times are gone. The Gen Xers are here and they are not going to take it anymore. Besides, they don't have to; your competitor will hire them the second they walk away from you.

When are we going to say 'ENOUGH!?'

It is time we started a campaign for retention. Yes, the 'R' word. Hire well and keep them. Service industries CAN have single digit turnover. I know that is a bizarre statement. Let's commit to lowering the outrageous turnover rates in the service industry. Let's start to reward managers who have low turnover and learn from them.

Why is this fact alone not treated as significant? I would bet those managers tend to have higher sales, spend fewer training dollars and have much less stress because they have a trained staff who want to come to work. And as a further positive point, I'll just bet they have lower turnover among managers too.

Concentrate on knowing who the best and worst employees are. Keep the best and eventually eliminate the worst. Do you even know who the best and the worst are? My hunch is you don't.

You can get a start at retention by taking these steps:

  1. Make your employees feel valued. Don't just give them a raise; show them they are valued. This is much more powerful and longer lasting than money. Study after study has proven this out.
  2. Never criticize your employees on anything they haven't been trained to do.
  3. Reread the One-Minute Manager.
  4. Reward your employees through instant gratification.
  5. Be consistent

Let's weigh anchor and go full speed ahead.

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.