“You get the service you tolerate”, I said to the general manager.

“What do you mean? We do not tolerate poor service around here”, he replied.

“Really?” said I “When was the last time you separated company with an employee because they repeatedly gave poor service?”

“Well, we don’t go that far. I mean to say, poor customer service is not a sacking offence, is it?” came the reply.

“What does your mission statement say?” I asked.

“Customers first, always”, the general manager replied.

“So, serving customers is the thing you are here for? It is more important than profits or sales because you believe that putting customers first will drive sales and profits? Is that why you have it as your mission statement?” I enquired.

“Yes, but as long as people are trying their best what can we do?” came the reply.

“So the mission statement should read, “Try to put customers first, most of the time”?” I pressed.

“No, that’s just silly” was the somewhat exasperated reply.

“Is it?” I wanted to say, but decided to change tack. “How often do you do appraisals?”

“Every six months.”

“What level of completion do you have?”

“I don’t know”

“Out of those appraisals you do complete, how many have a reference to providing customer service, in some form of words, as the number one job performance requirement?”

“I don’t know.”

“What standards do you have around the concept of customer service? For example, how will people greet customers or what authority do people have in dollar terms to solve customers’ problems or how will they deal with “difficult customers?”, I asked finally.

“Well, we don’t have written standards as such but people know what we expect”, was the hopeful reply from the general manager.

“So, let me understand this. You say that customers come first always and yet you do not drive in any shape or form the standards you expect people to adhere to. You don’t drive it through appraisals, you don’t drive it through coaching and counselling and it’s all OK as long as people try. Is that a fair summary?”

“Well, yes”.

“I’m guessing now, but I bet that if you do have an induction programme, no-one has ever been released after their probation period because they could not cut it in serving customers. Also, you never measure whether induction was successful or not, so it can be redesigned if necessary. Furthermore, if you train people in the basics of service you don’t measure the impact of the training at the shop floor level. All you measure are those low level information reaction sheets.”

“I won’t even go near measuring customers’ reasons that they did not buy from you rather than measuring the reasons why customers did buy. Nor will I mention a reward and recognition system that at least conforms to Hertzberg’s motivators and de-motivators to motivate people to deliver good or even great customer service”.

“And I guess you recruit friends, relatives and people from internet recruiting agencies without a professional interview and assessment process. You probably panic recruit in high turnover seasons.”

“You not only get the customer service you tolerate, you get the business performance you tolerate too. I wonder how long your shareholders will tolerate the profits you deliver?”