Improving Customer Service

Issue # 51 of 70 

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

The Easy Way

Which classes do you remember from high school or college? I'll bet the most memorable weren't the easiest classes that you had. Even after many years, you can probably still recall the hardest classes with the hardest teachers or professors. They pushed and you responded by kicking and screaming, but in the end you did it. Surely you still remember some of the lessons that they, of all people, taught. I know I can still tell you the ten foreign phrases that I had to learn in high school. I couldn't believe that we had to learn them--whatever for? But do you know what? I'd be lying if I told you I haven't used all of them at least once since then.

Isn't it interesting how the teachers and professors that pushed you and stimulated you and caused you so much grief are now looked upon as a big part of your best, most enjoyable and rewarding periods in school? At the time, you may or may not have appreciated them, but you definitely do now. And what do you have to say for those easy teachers with the easy A's and no homework? I'll bet you can't remember anything about them.

Guess what? Your employees today are the same as you were then. They want to be pushed, inspired, and to raise their goals and standards to their highest possible level. Even if the standards cause some localized pain and squawking, your employees will be proud of the level of service that those standards have created. They'll gripe to their friends as they meet over drinks (latté here in San Francisco), but they really do know that it's the right way.

Though it is natural for us to take the easy way if it's available and especially when it's the standard, it is equally natural for us to want to excel, to be part of "the best." Back in the 70's as the earth was cooling, I was privileged to be part of "the best" when I was with Steak and Ale. All of us knew we were the best and strove to create that kind of atmosphere in our restaurants for our staff.

When the standards are set so that the only option available is to perform at the highest level, with the environment set to uphold and honor those standards, the easy way will not be an option. You'll be amazed at the transformation of your staff's attitude into positive peer pressure and self-motivation that will, in turn, drive your company's culture and attitudes. Productivity will rise; along with customer satisfaction, and staff turnover will go down. When turnover declines, sales go up and management stress goes down. These are all pretty good things in the grand scheme of business.

All of this came out of the often-confused concept that being a "good" boss is the same as being a lenient boss. The truth is that lenient bosses are rarely confused with effective bosses. Your customers and employees know the difference because they are clear on their expectations. Managers that get the reputation of being lenient enjoy very brief success while their effective managers, who have pushed their employees with high standards, will have long-term success. And I think most people will agree that long-term success is very, very sweet.

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.