Improving Customer Service

Issue # 44 of 70 

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

It's All Sales

"It's all sales," said Mr. Bob Begley, the Executive Director of The Hotel Counsel of San Francisco as he held forth on customer service. He was referring to each employee who comes in contact with customers. The individual employee may not realize it, but he or she IS in sales. Each employee causes the customer to form an opinion on their experience with a particular company. Each clerk, server, or sales person makes a major impact on sales and ultimately the success of the entire company.

When asked to describe what they do, few clerks or servers would include sales in their primary job description. It is a shame because if they did realize that they were in sales, they would see their jobs in a whole new light.

It is also unfortunate that customers don't blame the real people responsible for bad customer service. No, they tend to put the blame on the individual rather than the real cause, which is invariably, management.

I remember asking a customer service workshop made up of managers of service companies to describe the typical service employee. It was very interesting to hear them passionately describe their own employees as basically lazy, uncaring, with low standards, no work ethic, and an only-in-it- for-themselves attitude--the list went on and on with the vast majority of the traits being negative.

I wrote each trait on a black board either on the good side or on the bad side. Not surprisingly, the bad side was full, while the good side was almost bare. That finished, I turned around and told them that the reason that their employees were like that was simple. The problem did not lie with the employees, but rather with themselves, the managers.

The managers were the only ones who were at fault because they either made their employees that way or they tolerated their employees being "bad". Either way, they had the power to hire, fire, train and develop their employees, but they chose not to. Look in the mirror and you will see who is to blame.

Not surprisingly, I got excuses, outrage and anger at my statements. After much gnashing of teeth, I finally got the majority of the group to see that they bore the responsibility. I have never known one employee to apply for a job with the preconceived notion of having a bad attitude, wanting to arrive late or not caring at all. At least not at the time of their hiring. No, this is a learned condition due to attitudes established by the other employees who are tolerated by management or brought on directly by the environment generated by management.

Mr. Begley also said that customers are always surprised when they are shown excellent customer service because they are simply not used to it. Strange, when everyone has the capability to do it. Doesn't this sound like a huge opportunity for some company that wants to make excellence the standard?

He mentioned an experience about a Nordstrom's coming to the area where he lived. His wife went to the new store and came away duly impressed. It turns out when she was in the store she bought a piece of clothing. When she went to the sales counter to have it gift-wrapped, the sales clerk noticed she was carrying another package and she offered to gift-wrap it also. When Mrs. Begley said that she hadn't bought it at Nordstrom's, the sales person said that she would be happy to gift-wrap it anyway.

It's a small gesture, but a huge concept at the same time. He (and she) still talks about that one experience.

And it just goes to prove what Bob Begley maintains: "It's all sales."

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.