Improving Customer Service

Issue # 52 of 70 

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

Passion and Focus

"Passion and focus." Words of wisdom from Bob Puccini of Puccini Consulting, Design and Development, Inc. Passion and focus are the two keys to success. He was referring specifically to the restaurant industry, but I'm sure he would agree that the words resonate for all businesses and throughout all industries.

Unfortunately, passion and focus can get lost easily, disappearing before your eyes, but not your customer's eyes. You've seen the signs: The restaurant where the staff has an attitude--Oh? You're not a VIP? The department store where the staff pays attention only to known customers. A medical team that transports injured or sick people but only really seems to be motivated by the more well-to-do clientele. Any service industry is prone to this ailment.

Cursory service and cursory attention to customers mean the beginning of the end. Selective service means that the end is near. I have to admit that it is an easy role to get into. When I was with major chains with steady customer streams, it was easy to take customers for granted. After all, they appear every day that you're open, don't they? There they are, lined up and ready.

I suffered a very sudden shift in view when I opened my own restaurant; customers were no longer a given. They weren't just highly appreciated; they became vital. The real reason was that it was personal and I was afraid. Either customers would come in and I could pay bills or I couldn't. Customers became very real, not just impersonal numbers that came in on a daily basis. I needed my employees to feel that connection.

I wasn't blasé about customers. I became zealous about customer service. It wasn't because I felt customers deserved it; it was, quite honestly, because I was petrified that if we didn't exceed their expectations, they wouldn't do business with me. It is this fear element that seems to be missing from so many service companies. They have forgotten the lean and hungry times when they needed customers.

They have forgotten that they still need them. So many companies that used to ride the wave of incredible success are now forgotten and are mere footnotes in business. Fear can be a wonderful motivator. Complacency can be an even more powerful deterrent.

Today, I call superior service programs that work not customer, but rather employee service programs, because it is your employees who must believe in it and deliver it. When they believe in customer service, customers will be treated the same way an owner would treat them. When this happens the culture of your company will evolve toward embracing customer service.

It is easy to assume that your particular store or service is a necessity to your customers. However, when customers are taken for granted by management you'd better be prepared to start either on the great ride called decline or to do something drastic to change this insipid, disastrous attitude.

Change must come from the management or owners because, like it or not, that is where the complacency started. Mr. Puccini was so right--you just need passion and focus.

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.