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Don't blame staff for bad service

The 2010 Soccer World Cup has focused our attention on customer service. We don't need statistics from market research to highlight the status quo. We have all experienced bad customer service and wondered why it is so prevalent in South Africa.
Blaming bad customer service on lower level employees is a cop-out on the part of South African management, says Pete Smith.
Blaming bad customer service on lower level employees is a cop-out on the part of South African management, says Pete Smith.
This debate raises all sorts of deep and devious topics… Is it a case of our being a society of people who have absolutely no respect for each other and we treat each other accordingly?

Have we more basic human issues to address like murder and rape and haven't the time for the "niceties" of life?

Do our children have to learn the 3Rs before we teach them to say "Please" and "Thank you"?

Do the international tourists that visit our beautiful land owe us the favour of handing over their hard-earned dollars whilst we insult them?

The standard argument lays the blame at the feet of the individuals providing service to the customer. Then the individual's wayward behaviour is explained and condoned because of some or other shortcoming in their upbringing or some other factor beyond their control. All management can do is grin and accept the situation - and that stance relieves management or any blame. Rather, it is argued, they are victims as much as the customers are.

When I hear such arguments, and it is often that I do, I cringe and think of an incident that happened to me when my wife and I took the kids to Disney World. We were seated at a restaurant themed as Mom's Kitchen. I was exhausted and rested my elbows on the table. Within a millisecond the waitress, dressed up as Mom, shouted at me to take my elbows off the table or leave her kitchen immediately and only return once I had learnt some manners. Well, you can imagine how loud my kids laughed.

"Mom" did not take it upon herself to verbally attack me. Nor, to go to the other extreme, had management brainwashed her to use those exact words when a client like me took it upon himself to be so ill-mannered.

"Mom" would have been trained under the direction of management to play the role of Mom. That was her job. That was what she was paid for. That was what her job performance was measured on. That was the role she was committed to and that motivated her to do it well. And my kids loved her for doing her job so well.

And there are many more Moms at Disney World all playing their roles and doing their jobs in sync with each other thereby offering us, their clients, an experience so wonderful as to reinstall our faith in the human race.

If other countries can get customer service so right, why can't we in South Africa at least do the basics right?

Disney believes customer service is management's responsibility and must be built into the way in which the company does business. Employees deliver customer service according to stipulations laid down in the systems and procedures of the company. Defining customer service in line with the business purpose of the company, teaching employees what is expected of them and implementing those standards are what management is there for.

Blaming bad customer service on lower level employees is a cop-out on the part of South African management. It is much easy blaming the nebulous them than management doing their job properly like Disney does. Until South African management identifies the real problem they will forever try to solve the wrong problem.

About the author

Pete Smith's 35-year career has been in HR and Marketing, leading to his interest in Services Marketing. He has added team building (using LEGO) to his repertoire of consulting in human behaviour in the business environment. He can be contacted on +27 (83) 3207 623, or .
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That is so true-
I totally agree with you!
Posted on 9 Apr 2009 06:50
Barbara Spence
We can get it right-
Completely agree Pete!
Posted on 9 Apr 2009 11:20
The Corporate World Nowadays-
Initially, I thought I was alone in my perceptions but on chatting with a vast spectrum of people, it appears that I am not alone at all. It seems nowadays that the corporate business rules are laid down and there is no flexibility at all. If things work against the client at the end of the day, the attitude is - move onto the next one. The client is left "high & dry". Customer Relations?? It stems from not only Management but from the boards of these corporates. Refer to Argus Action article Friday 3 April 2009 - AWH / MAZDA. All this poor guy did was buy a brand new Mazda 3!!!! Since the article I believe, Mazda have offerred to do a buy back at HALF the price he paid for it in November 2008! Another story - a divorced lady had in her 11 year old divorce agreement that when her ex drew his pension from ALEXANDER FORBES she was entitled to a percentage of it. Please Note that this was a court order. She had checked about 3 yrs ago whether the company was aware of it and was assured that "it was flagged on their system". When she checked a month ago - Alexander Forbes advised her that the total payment had been made to her ex in October 2008!!! Most people in these situations cannot afford this. In both cases - What does one do?? If you cannot afford the legal fees, we walk away and the "Fat Cats get Fatter". It's not right. The corporates just move on to their next victim. If anyone out there has any suggestions, please post them.
Posted on 13 Apr 2009 17:26
Good and appropriate for the times-
If only all SA had access to this, it's a pity that only a handful of us can read this, let alone reading - but do something about it!
Posted on 15 Apr 2009 11:14

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