Improving Customer Service

Issue # 45 of 70 

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

Nuts to You

If you haven't read the book Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success by Freiberg and Freiberg then you're missing a real treat. This is a must-read for anyone claiming to care, to whatever extent, about customer service.

The founder of Southwest Airlines is Jack Kelleher, who turned the airline industry on its ear by treating people well and doing things that supposedly couldn't be done. Not only did he do all the things that were considered impossible by the establishment, Southwest airlines is ranked the safest airline in the world and ranks number one in the industry for service, on-time performance and maintaining low employee turnover. Plus, Fortune Magazine has twice ranked Southwest one of the ten best companies to work for in America.

The company is profitable, displays strong customer approval and is loved by its employees. They've got pretty much all the bases covered.

Southwest did it by placing their customers second and their employees first. This concept has been mentioned in this column more than once because it works. Why then is it found so infrequently?

Most companies direct all of their emphasis and resources at their customers; they'll bend over backwards to satisfy them. 'No rules, just right,' or '100% guest satisfaction guaranteed' are just two examples. Then many companies follow up with reams of paperwork, rules, regulations, policies and checklists that the employees MUST follow. Not the customers of course, their rules can be broken because they're the ones that need to be satisfied.

I haven't seen them, but I imagine that the Southwest Airlines' employee operations manual, dress code, polices and procedures are either pretty lean or leave quite a lot of room for personal style and choice. Companies that rely heavily on employee regulations send a strong and clear message that they don't trust their employees to think for themselves. They know what is best for their customers and this is the formula. Read them and heed them. Do not deviate. I have worked for a company that did just that. No room for choices, decisions or trust. Checklists, regulations, procedures, and policies were all designed to take any personal freedom or initiative out of the loop. It was devastating to morale, but it did accomplish its goal: no employee or manager took any initiative or went out of their way to help customers because everyone was afraid that it might go against some policy or checklist or procedure.

What a waste of talent. And it can only lead one way: disillusionment, a lowering of self-worth and finally, staff turnover. When are we going to wake up to the fact that employees are a company's greatest resource and, what's more important, actually walk the talk?

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.