Improving Customer Service

Issue # 5 of 70 

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

Business Closed: The Story Behind The Sign

We've all seen "closed" signs hanging in the windows of empty buildings. We probably glanced at the signs but our thoughts quickly turned to something else. Closed signs are such a common sight that we usually don't give them a second thought, they just register as background, like highway billboards advertising milk or cars.

But the closed sign represents much more than just another building available for rent. Behind the sign lies human tragedy. Dreams crushed, families torn apart, savings emptied, and past friends now bitter enemies.

It means that someone dared to take action and breathe life into a dream. The good news is that this person is not going to spend their life wondering if they should plunge into the risky waters of ownership. They know. For better or for worse, they know.

Owning your own business is an aphrodisiac that blinds the owner to any flaws that the concept may have. Most entrepreneurs know and even understand that starting a business is risky. Or at least they think they do. But, that's not the problem.

The problem lies at the core of the dream. The excitement that breeds as you talk about it, fueling even more excitement until you stop listening to anyone who doesn't agree with you. When people offer objections or criticisms, you usually dismiss them as errant opinions because they just don't understand. They're just negative. This start-up will be different. You can FEEL it. This feels right. Too right to fail. There is just too much sweat and blood in it. And anyway, this couldn't fail.

Well, it could fail, it can fail, and it often does fail. 90% of the time, in fact.

By now you're asking where is this leading? Where does customer service come in?

Customer service or the lack of it, is one of the primary reasons why businesses fail. New businesses fail by getting carried away with the assumption that a flashy product, celebrity owners, or clever marketing will carry them to success and profits. Established businesses fail when they become complacent. Yes, the public appreciates and will flock initially to a glitzy start-up. But that's short term. After the dust settles, customer service will nourish and sustain the business.

Companies that are committed to long term success always place customer service at their core. Take a look at employees of companies known for customer service excellence; you'll see low turnover, great morale and passionate loyalty that customers find infectious. And rare.

When a company is based on customer service, even the inevitable problems that occur provide opportunities to actually strengthen customer loyalty. Because business has been built on relationships and not gimmicks, your customers will often work with you to help solve problems and work through them, not turn away like a fickle lover. The value of relationships, of your employees, and ultimately, of customer service cannot be overstated.

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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For more customer service articles, visit the Customer Service series on the new Sideroad: Practical Advice Straight from The Experts.

Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.