Improving Customer Service

Issue # 47 of 70 




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


Return on Investment


R.O.I. = Return On Investment. Words to live by in the business world. They are the hallowed words that CEO's must always invoke up front when contemplating a new investment. Is it any wonder that when you say R.O.I. and customer service in the same breath that you might mistake it for the latest oxymoron? Something along the lines of the presidency and celibacy?

But think about it. Even with inflation being flat and a non-factor recently, costs have still risen due to labor, construction and advertising. Competition keeps getting stronger so each pie keeps getting sliced thinner and thinner. Reducing costs is not the answer. It never is. The name of the game is increasing sales, increasing market share. When reducing costs is the goal, quality or service suffers. They are fixed as immutable laws.

They don't call us the service industry for no reason. We don't manufacture anything except service and relationships. Service companies must be in the business of continuously training and developing employees to provide that elusive standard of the product called service. Most service companies don't have a quality control department standing at the end of the line to check on things before the customer sees the finished product, like they do in manufacturing plants.

Remember back in the old days of the seventies when every car manufactured in the US came to the customer with 17 major defects? But we kept buying the cars while at the same time buying the excuse that this was the best that could be done. And then the Japanese 'invasion' happened. Lo and behold, Japanese cars arrived with practically "0" defects and lasted with practically no maintenance, proving that quality could be built into cars. It could be done. Suddenly, in the relative blink of an eye, the bar was raised not incrementally, but dramatically. Detroit has played catch up ever since.

One day a company will become so obsessed with service that they will not only turn their focus on training, but also become obsessed with it. This mystical company will have training permeate their hiring, communications, and daily operations until it becomes their culture. Training will become not a part of their culture, but the very soul of their culture. Peer teaching will be common to refine points of service. A system of certifications for training will help to elevate the status of trainers. Finally, trainers will be rewarded who consistently show a passion for their craft.

That is the future. Now the question is: Who will be first to start the service "invasion"? In the words of prominent 20th century philosopher, Yogi Berra, "The future isn't what it used to be."

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.