Improving Customer Service

Issue # 6 of 70 

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

Is everything OK?

Is your company striving for OK? Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But it happens every day in many companies and in most restaurants in America. It is a pet peeve of mine when a manager comes striding to my table and asks the inane question, "Is everything OK?"

"Everything." And "OK."

What's wrong with this picture, you ask? Not much. . .and everything.

Let's take a look at the everything part. Everything. Big word. Even bigger meaning.

Is the manager asking if I am satisfied with the political, economic, ecological and sociological status of humanity? Or maybe the manager perceived that I was about to burst out crying and was attempting to offer help?

What about the OK part? By definition OK means the minimum acceptable level. I doubt seriously if the mission of any company is to strive for the minimum level of customer service. So, when the eager manager eagerly receives the expected yes, knee-jerk answer to the knee-jerk question, the manager goes away pleased. But should the manager be pleased?

I think not.

I don't blame the restaurant manager. He was trained that way. Indeed, it was probably pounded into him to visit every table. 100% table visitation. Asking everyone in the restaurant if everything is OK is like a prime directive in most restaurant chains and I suspect many companies.

What's so wrong with wanting to get the opinion of all your customers?

First of all, you cannot listen to your customers. You can only make it a formality, like the greeting of "How are you?" You don't really expect an answer, except the polite "Fine".

Of course to visit every table in most restaurants make it impossible to actually listen to customers. This requires quality time of the manager to stay long enough to listen to the customers instead of quantifying the experience.

The concept is good, but the execution and results not only cause the effort to suffer but actually cause it to be doomed. It is like the owner of a hotel demanding that the hotel manager keep the hotel full. All the hotel manager has to do is keep reducing the price of the room until the owner's results are accomplished. Never mind that the owner lost money. The hotel is full.

Here are three rules to follow when asking about your customer's perceptions of your service:

  • Allow time to listen, don't just go through the formality of asking!
  • Ask specific questions, not general.
  • Use a superlative that you want to be identified with to the customer. Was your service excellent or fantastic or outrageous? Set your sights high not low. Never OK.
  • The quality of the effort is worth far more than the quantity of effort. /LI>

It's time that the hallowed expression "Is everything OK?" was finally laid to rest.

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.

Improving Customer Service #6 of 70: View all in the Table of Contents

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.