Improving Customer Service

Issue # 56 of 70 




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


The Worst Place to Work


I feel very fortunate to have many international students in my Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Program. One such student is Arnold Bertrand, of France. He is a very passionate, dedicated young man who is intent on making a career out of the hospitality industry in spite of its shortcomings.

He related an experience to me that took place in a hotel in Orlando last summer, but could have occurred in any restaurant or hotel in almost any city. He was working at a hotel that had serious management problems, which had reached the point of no return. The situation had decayed to the extent that it had infected the entire staff. They were frustrated, angry and felt that they were in a hopeless situation which they were powerless to change.

Customers would come in and immediately and intuitively comprehend the situation of the hotel and the mood of its workers; they could sense the resignation in the staff manifested in the apathy that settled like a pall over everyone involved.

Arnold is, by nature, an extroverted, optimistic and idealistic individual, like most people who are attracted to the hospitality field. I say this only to give a sense of perspective to an environment that is powerful enough to change employees from being hopeful, confident and positive to resigned, uncertain and despairing. I don't believe that most managers are conscious of just how much influence they can have over their employees--either positively or negatively.

Arnold's hotel was a mainstream, moderately priced hotel. His manager would say that they were neither the Hilton nor the Ritz-Carlton; they were just what they were and nothing more. Customers would pay their money and that was that. If they were ever unhappy, they would just be given their money back.

It is such an amazingly revealling concept that employees WANT to be part of success. They want to be part of something special; they want to feel that they contribute to this success, even in a small way. To their bosses, to all managers, I have three words: motivate, lead and inspire--none of which was exemplified by Arnold's hotel manager.

Customer service, not to mention employee morale, does not have a chance when the tank is on empty. That manager was right when he said that they weren't the Ritz-Carlton; not every hotel can be the Ritz, just as all cars cannot be Ferraris. However, what they can be is the best at what they do. When this sense of purpose and identity is lost, the effect is disastrous to morale and, soon after, to customer service.

This manager also brought his own particular brand of gloom. Bertrand maintains that the manager would never be pleased with anyone, no matter how hard they tried. It would never be enough. Silence, never praise, would greet employees who tried to be noticed by working hard.

When employees worked hard and performed well, the manager would simply not be angry. When employees attempted to do well, the manager would be angry and even unhappier than he already was.

Bad management sets up a chain reaction of staff turnover and customer dissatisfaction. When employees get mistreated, they quit. When they quit, recruiting and training raise expenses. As new people begin their learning curve, customer service deteriorates. When turnover reaches maximum overload, new employees are usually just thrown into their jobs with little or no training and customers start to leave and never come back.

This whole process causes frustration, low self-esteem and lack of confidence in employees that can only develop into bad attitudes over time. They quit and the cycle continues yet again.

Arnold called this hotel the worst place he had ever worked in. How many of us are now working in their own worst place?

Story concludes in: Part II.

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.