Improving Customer Service

Issue # 8 of 70 

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

Why Isn't Customer Service Better?

After so many discussions, books, columns (!), and articles have been written about it, why isn't customer service any better? You'd think that with all the attention, research and effort customer service would have risen to new heights well before now. But, no.

I think there are two reasons.

The first reason is the fact that we still see customer service in the way that we always have. . .as a series of isolated customer contacts from which customers draw their perceptions of the quality of customer service.

These series of contacts are what everyone thinks customer service is about. Hasn't changed at all. Do you remember this old saying? "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got".

Well, we still do what we always did and we're still getting what we always got. . . That's where we're at today

The customer service wheel has been invented but the wheel is square.

As long as the wheel remains essentially square, it really doesn't matter if you put different hub caps on it or paint it differently. It is still a square wheel. It works, but not very well.

That's today's customer service. A great concept but stuck in the square wheel stage.

"What to do, what to do", you ponder. . .

The problem is that we haven't realized that the wheel doesn't have to be square.

Which leads into the second reason. The existing customer service paradigm is dead. Customer service is in desperate need of a new paradigm.

Remember the definition of a paradigm? It is basically a set of conventions, rules and boundaries of a particular field.

The customer service paradigm is just not working and it is not working because we cannot look outside the established boundaries. We've taken it to the limits of the square wheel. It is time for a new hero to enter, carrying this new paradigm of the round wheel.

Everyone is yelling that it is impossible to have truly excellent customer service, there are too many variables. We need someone who hasn't realized that it is impossible. If history repeats itself, this new paradigm will most likely come from someone outside of the service industry. This is true because it requires thinking outside of the boundaries that we have imposed and not knowing that it is impossible.

No one has imposed these boundaries, but they are today's sound barrier, today's status quo.

It was impossible to break the sound barrier, it was impossible to get 30 miles per gallon, and it was impossible to make a watch without gears. All impossible. Just like customer service excellence.

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 #8 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.