Improving Customer Service

Issue # 69 of 70 




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


Exercise for Change


"But we don't need to change anything; we're good," your earnest assistant says.

How often have you heard something like this? You get frustrated because you don't want to be merely good. You're after exceptional customer service, so why does everyone seem to be satisfied with simple status quo?

There are many that will fight change. Be cautious of people in your company who are satisfied with the status quo. They resist any changes because it would require coming off autopilot. It is definitely work to learn new systems or procedures.

It is really tough to change behavior if people don't want to change. Change is almost universally considered negative. Like I've said before, the only people who like change are wet babies.

To change your restaurant fundamentally, it has to start on a mental level. Your employees must recognize that change is needed. This is usually difficult, but for starters, try to get them to look at their workplace a bit differently.

How, you ask?

Non-threateningly, I say.

First, get some of your key people together and talk about what level of customer service your company (or GM or President or even the workers themselves) expects to deliver to its customers. Is that level exceptional or is it just good?

See what they think it is. Chances are they won't really think it is currently exceptional either. Even if they do, what do they think the opportunities for raising customer service are? They could very well offer great insight into what can be done to change good customer service to delivering exceptional customer service. They may just have been waiting for an opportunity to express themselves.

Once you have agreed on the level of service that you are striving for, have each member write, on a 4 x 5 card in big, bold letters, a typical customer service situation that would normally occur. Post the cards on a board for everyone to see. This is a great technique to get people to open up because it forces them to talk about the issues rather than allow personalities to get in the way of discussion.

Next, talk about how each situation could be handled in an exceptional way. You'll be surprised by the standards that are suggested. Usually these are much higher than you probably would have thought. Employees usually tend to set higher standards for themselves than their companies ever do. Employees know they are capable of exceptional service, it is the management that thinks they are doing their employees a favor by lowering company expectations.

Your employees desperately want to be associated with winners. They know that an exceptional company demands exceptional performance and it is frustrating to them when companies or managers become complacent.

Set your standards high even when you're tempted to lower them. Your employees want to be perceived as the best, but this requires leadership not management. When you expect exceptional, you'll typically receive exceptional.

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.