Improving Customer Service

Issue # 50 of 70 

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

Customer Delight

"It is not about customer service, it is about customer delight" explained Jan Schroeder, Vice President of Education for the California Culinary Academy. Listening to her speak, her passion for customer service is obvious. To her, customers are not just the paying guests, but they also include the students and faculty at her academy.

I was also struck by the passion their students exuded when they discussed their education and future careers. What made this even more impressive was that it wasn't just one or two students; it was all of them. When a company's "internal customers" are positive and have bought into the culture of their company, it may be the best public relations that can be had. It may also be the best indicator that a company cares about its people.

Ms. Schroeder is zealous about taking care of the smallest details, including how the phone is answered. This giant, yet often-overlooked concept can be either a wonderful public relations tool or the worst public relations nightmare. What makes this especially interesting is that in most cases this fact is not readily apparent to most busy executives. They aren't even aware that they may be losing customers that have been expensively acquired through advertising and training.

She recognized a problem and acted on it. She taped the employees as they answered the phones, then played it back to them. The results were startling. When hearing how they sounded to a customer, the level of customer service increased dramatically. It is amazing what a difference it made by simply having employees listen to themselves. Once they actually heard their voice inflection and sense of friendliness and helpfulness they understood immediately what was truly required of them.

To have the goal of 'delighting' customers rather than merely 'servicing' them is a wonderful concept. It made me stop and think how cold and impersonal the word service is when compared to delight. Service is such a cold and impersonal word while delight is warm and personal.

It is a concept that struck me as needed in the service industries especially. Our employees and managers come to work everyday, but how many of us really try to rise above servicing our customers. Judging by the turnover in the service industry, the level of complacency in training, and the smugness of companies who still view employees as expendable, the concept of customer delight is a goal that is far out of reach for too many.

In aspiring to get to this level of delight, first there must be someone who has the authority to effect changes in the organization. This person must:

  • be passionate about service
  • believe in employees as individuals
  • understand that the work environment is a place of dignity.

Only when these elements are evident can a company move from servicing its customers to actually delighting them. There are people and companies that are able to implement these fundamental changes and that hard work will pay off in lower staff turnover/higher retention and, inevitably, higher sales--all extremely positive results of a culture change. Don't just take my word for it--ask Ms. Schroeder if you want to see someone who practices what she preaches.

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.