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Comments From a Manager

There Is No Other Way...

By Robert Milner

I was sitting at my desk working diligently on a report (which had been due the day before) when the telephone rang. On the other end was a manager, who, while attempting to help a customer, found that he needed a little extra guidance and support. The manager felt as if he had done as much as he could, but he still wanted to double-check to see if there was another way in which to assist the customer.
This process, to some of us, is called creative problem-solving and is, obviously, a critical part of providing quality customer service. Eventually, between the manager and myself (in addition to contacting two other colleagues), we were not only able to help the customer with his needs, but we also put in place a process should we encounter the same situation in the future.
However, creative problem-solving is not what this article is about. Instead, it focuses on the manager's roles in service organizations, which ultimately provides quality customer service.
In the above situation, there were two other possible decisions, among several, which were not considered. One possibility was that the manager could have just said, "I'm sorry, but there really is nothing else we can do." Or, secondly, I personally could have told the manager, "I am in the middle of working on an overdue report, so you need to figure it out for yourself. That is, after all, what you are being paid for." I'm proud to say that the reason these two possible decisions were not considered is because our organization strives to provide quality customer service.
Quality customer service could be defined as the ability of an organization to constantly and consistently exceed the customer's expectations. This not only subtly pleases the customer, but puts "you" in a very impressive position. However, when an organization places this desire/emphasis on quality customer service, there comes with it an array of responsibilities for all managers involved. These responsibilities require more than just "an eight-hour-shift attitude." In an effort to be a tad bit more clear, let's define three important elements of customer service. The American Heritage Dictionary office edition defines
1. "Customer" as one who buys goods or services, especially on a regular basis.
2. "Service" as the act or means of serving. Duties performed as an occupation.
3. And "emotion" as agitation of the passions or sensibilities. A strong, complex feeling, as of joy, sorrow or hate.
Put all together, we now understand that customer service is an organization's vehicle to assuage their customer's anxiety and satisfy their wants and needs with the service provided.
My point in the above trilogy is that every employee and manager must constantly focus on a quality customer service attitude. Point taken, but much easier said than done.
Upper management, especially the leader in any organization/company, must do this not only in the workplace, but also outside the workplace. I firmly believe there is no other way. Now, before you write to the editor with your "what about my personal life, family, etc.," just hear me out. I am not saying that work must be the most important aspect of a manager's life when employed in a service industry. I personally have two young sons with whom I have participated in all of their extracurricular activities.
I am simply trying to state that when an upper manager's standard is to provide quality customer service, they must be the role model whom others look up to. If you totally disagree with that statement, it would be wise for you to read no further or you will inevitably be screaming, "They should have done this" to each situation about to be described. For the record, perhaps there is some credence to the phrases this could have been done or that could have been done; however, there is no "shoulda, coulda, woulda" in providing quality customer service. Clear and simple, you either did or did not.
Let's take the situation of the parking manager employed by a quality hotel that offers self-parking as well as valet parking. The hotel was hosting a huge gala, which was nothing out of sorts, but for some reason, the hotel management noted that this event had to be operated even better than the normal huge events.
The manager makes it a habit of constantly talking and walking a quality customer service environment to his assistant managers and frontline employee. Due to a family emergency, the manager could not work this particular event (as he normally would). However, while not physically present, he made it a point to call several times in an effort to check on the operation. This action was simply to let everyone know that he cared about the way things were being handled in his absence, especially with an event of this magnitude.
Another manager, while on vacation, always checks his e-mail and calls his assistant managers. Sure, this takes time away from his vacation, but that time is minute compared with the benefits gained by his actions.
Yet another manager takes the newer assistant managers out after work for a beer every so often. There is no hidden agenda in doing this; he does it because it shows how he treats his colleagues outside of business hours, as well as how he treats them "on the job." A separation? Of course! However, taking one's concerns into account after the 5 o'clock whistle blows can make a huge difference, as well as contributing to the "team work environment" that every business strives for.
I validate this comment with the following past experience. I had worked for a parking organization that divided its city into two areas. The managers in one of the areas always used to get together for a beer every Thursday. The attitude was that if you could make it, great; if not, there was always next week. I must admit that at least 50 percent of the managers made it every week and surprisingly enough, once a month all the managers showed up. The kicker was that at the locations from which these managers operated, they continually out-shone and out-performed their counterparts.
The lesson to be learned from this tale is that in order to be a successfully effective leader/manager in the service industry, you have to involve your life outside of work. Let's face it, someone has to take a leadership role when it comes to working in the service industry, and whether or not your place of business delivers quality customer service is a direct reflection of your approach and your attitude. Bottom line. No other way.
I consider myself to be a fairly educated man; however, throughout my studies, I remember no class that pertained to "what it takes to make it" in the service industry. The "make it" part I refer to is a combination of people skills, along with time and effort, and last but not least, dedication. Making it in the service industry is not easy; it takes hard work, perseverance and a tremendous amount of flexibility. However, one can be assured that the rewards, both financially and personally, will come. Because when it comes to the service industry, there really aren't a lot who get it, are there?

Robert Milner is Director of Parking and Transportation for the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He can be reached at rmilner@parking.umaryland.edu.

Article Abstract from September, 2005




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