Improving Customer Service

Issue # 64 of 70 




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


Who, Me?


Whose responsibility is it to ensure that employees have an environment where they feel secure and can flourish as individuals yet still adhere to the highest customer service standards? Is it the corporate executives that make the mission statements and corporate policies? Is it mid-management with its supervisors that travel to each restaurant to ensure performance standards and policies are being followed? Or is it the local management that sets the environment?

This is not a tough question for Mark Washington. He believes it is his responsibility because he is the general manager. It is his store. Period. Mark Washington is a general manager for a multi-million dollar restaurant, but more importantly, he has a vision. There are many general managers in big restaurant chains, but many don't have a vision or even the courage to create, let alone work towards, that vision.

In a perfect world, a case could be made that it is up to the corporate office to set the tone for its management. Without official corporate sanctions, anyone not at the top of the food chain has little ability to make any impact on this crucial environment. But the trouble with this philosophy is that we don't live in a perfect world. Setting an environment is a top-down process, certainly, but what if you're the "down" in the top-down process? Do you just wring your hands and give up, wailing that it is out of your control?

There is a distinct difference between "doing things the right way" and "doing the right thing." Every day Mark tries to make his world a place where his employees are secure, while at the same time promoting the highest customer service standards possible. It is this vision of what can be that makes him such an effective manager.

There is also a distinction between responsibility and ability. The six letters they have in common are not all they share. We carry both an innate responsibility and ability within us to foster and create an environment that is best for our employees and consequently for our customers. Regardless of your position on the corporate ladder, whether on the bottom or the top rung, you have both the responsibility and the ability to create an effective environment while at the same time affecting change that will pave the way to this new environment.

When you have a situation that is terrible, you can make an immediate impact by managing your shifts the best you can for your own personal satisfaction. If it is so bad you know that nothing will change, then sometimes the only way to go is out the door to another place that is better suited to your beliefs. If you continue to stay after you have tried unsuccessfully to effect change, you are condoning that environment. Sometimes leaving is the only message that upper management understands.

Finally, I'd like to leave with some words of wisdom.

"Everyone is in business for himself, for he is selling his services, labor or ideas. Until one realizes that this is true he will not take conscious charge of his life and will always be looking outside himself for guidance."
- Sidney Madwed

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.