Improving Customer Service

Issue # 70 of 70 




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


Are You Taking Your Customers For Granted?


A too common assumption made in the service industry is that your customers will want to come back after visiting once. In other words, you're assuming that they will be repeat customers. This is a dangerous and risky assumption.

I remember vividly when I was with a national restaurant chain. I had a typical just-open-it-and-they- will-come mentality. We were busy most days and evenings, but especially Friday and Saturday evenings, when a long wait was virtually guaranteed. I just knew that people were always going to want to wait to eat at the restaurant. It was inevitable. Of course customers would be there. Why wouldn't they?

Little did I know that same dangerous mentality would come back to haunt me several years later when I owned my own restaurant. I learned a bitter lesson that customers don't have to come into your establishment. They really do have a choice and they can flex a very strong muscle when they exercise that choice. They proved that it wasn't inevitable that they line up for the privilege to eat at my restaurant.

But what does it take for a customer to be called a repeat customer? Is there a certain number of times that a customer has to come in before they can legitimately be called a repeat customer? That's not as easy as it might appear to be because it really means different things to different types of establishments. To a low-check-average type of store, repeat business may mean once a day or three times per week. But to an expensive, white tablecloth restaurant once a month might seem terrific.

Are you taking your customers for granted? Do you, like I did myself, become totally convinced that it is the nature of things that your customers will continue to do business with you? It is very easy to get lulled into thinking your company is invincible, that nothing can change the laws of nature. Well, it just isn't so.

If you do find your company or department in that dilemma, you had best pull yourself out, and quickly. If you don't, you risk losing your market share to your competitors. When you take your customers for granted you are also saying that there is room for competition. Someone is gong to see an opportunity and a niche, all at your expense.

Never allow you or your subordinates to get a casual attitude about their customers. One person can spread it to everyone. Employees can easily get one because of their backgrounds, personal or management related problems, or simply because they're burned-out.

Sometimes you can see it manifest itself by employees talking about tips or their date the night before right in front of customers. The customers can even be staring at them, but to no avail. They are totally oblivious of the fact that their customers can see and hear them. This is a common indicator that they are taking their customers too lightly.

This customer-will-always-be-there mentality is, of course, much more common with corporate managers than independents. Typically independents know the value of customers because if they don't, they won't meet payroll. And they don't have the luxury of stronger stores subsidizing the weaker ones.

It is the responsibility of each manager to keep their employees respectful of their customers. It is vital to understand that customers really do have a choice. And you want them to continue making the right choice. Don't you?

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.