Improving Customer Service

Issue # 60 of 70 




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


It Doesn't Have To Be


This week's column is in direct response to a reader who writes that many of his employees are unhappy, dissatisfied, and frustrated. They feel this way because former managers have mistreated them. This is all too common in our industry and the truth is that it just doesn't have to be.

I first entered the restaurant industry back in the 1970's, in the days of leisure suits, Nixon and 240Z's, when theme restaurants were the rage and expanding rapidly. I was fortunate that the first company that hired me fresh out of college and the military believed in integrity. This turned out to be both a curse and a blessing, however, for it only prolonged the time that I too would feel mistreated by bad management.

It seems like only yesterday that I was walking into my first restaurant as a fresh manager-trainee. I was no different from today's managers: enthusiastic, trusting and maybe a little bit idealistic. I thought all things were possible. I'd take it one step at a time and with a little luck, maybe even skip a step now and then. I knew that I would be with this company until I retired. It never dawned on me that I might one day work for another company (much less several). Of course, in those days there was no retirement for managers.

*What? Your company still has no retirement for managers? We'll get to that in a future column...*

I don't think we fully realize the power that bad management has on our employees and other managers. Each time a bad manager is allowed to practice, it leaves a bruise on each person that comes into contact and this will quickly numb the wonder and joy that each person begins their job with. It makes for employees that suspect hidden agendas behind their boss's motives and forces them to realize that they are no more than "disposable" employees. Some typical examples are:

  • working too many hours
  • close-open shifts
  • not getting expected/promised bonuses or raises
  • vacations that are promised and never granted or are granted grudgingly
  • cheques that are a little off yet no one will just fix them
  • performance evaluations not done on time
  • always being quickly criticized and rarely praised

When good management does arrive on the scene, it takes an incredible amount of time, effort and skill to undo the damage in trust, loyalty and the individual's self worth.

It is all such a waste. Literally hundreds of thousands of employees and an untold number of managers are merely going about their job, pulling shifts, when they could and would like to do so much more--not just do their job, but be enthusiastic and proud of it.

But to do that, we must overcome the past. We must offer our trust and respect, something that only comes by doing what we say and creating an environment in which each person can excel. We are literally using only about 60% of our managers' ability because of poor traditions established in the past. To overcome this, four actions must be taken:

First, you must focus on the core values of your company by placing integrity first. It's simple--do what you say you'll do. If an evaluation is due on February 10th, then it is held on February 10th. Period. Nothing takes precedence.

Second, management must feel that they are valued and not just pulling shifts. For example, make reasonable schedules that are flexible. Things happen. Inflexible corporate schedules send micro-management signals that betray any trust.

Third, management must feel that they are a vital part of the whole. Tell them. Communicate with them. Ask for feedback and input and act on it. They really do know best. Let them know and understand the mission of the company. Tell them the goals, hits and misses of the company. Give them information. Everyone wants to be part of something great. Allow them this opportunity.

Fourth, management must feel secure. If they get severely criticized for the most minor incidents or infractions, they will go into survival mode, which is a defensive mode. They will try to simply not do a bad job. They won't try to do a great job, because that would be dangerous, too risky. Defensive management is stagnant management. Strive to have inspired management.

When management feels vital, energized, secure, and filled with purpose, you can be assured that each and every employee will feel the same. All together, you will have the makings of a great company through great customer service.

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.