The University Record, June 25, 1997

Good customer service consists of five essentials

By Ryan Solomon

A Workplace 2000 seminar taught participants that most principles of good customer service can be pared down to one point: treat a customer the way you expect to be treated.

General Physics Corp. Curriculum Manager Judy Kohl teaches the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM) to businesses, non-profits and the federal government. Kohl said that about six years ago her company examined customer problems that were accumulating from the technical training programs it offered. General Physics adopted TQM to correct those deficiencies and because it was important to show clients that the company was committed to practicing the principles it was teaching in its training courses.

Kohl says the way management deals with mistakes and problems is critical to making TQM work. Kohl was once in charge of publishing the company newsletter. In one issue that highlighted the achievement of an employee, she made the mistake of using a photograph of the wrong employee who had just left the company to join a competitor. Kohl's mistake caused 10,000 newsletters to be destroyed and cost the company $2,500. Kohl says her boss' reaction did not include threat of firing. Instead, her supervisor told Kohl to fix the problem and then develop a procedure to prevent it from happening again.

Kohl's company uses data gathered from surveys to measure customer satisfaction with the quality of its training programs. At one time, her company collected reams of data about customer satisfaction from surveys that asked many questions. Then the company simplified the measurement process by asking only two questions: What is your overall impression of this class? Would you recommend this class to a friend?

However, Kohl says the best way she has found to measure customer satisfaction is talking to customers on a one-to-one basis. "I get more information that way than I ever would reading evaluations, much better feedback."

Although TQM is taught to businesses and others who serve customers, Kohl reminded her audience that as consumers they should expect good customer service in everyday transactions. "Be good customers. Be tough customers."

The five essentials of TQM

Essential One: Quality is consistently meeting or exceeding customer expectations. This means identifying the customers and planning to give them consistent, predictable outcomes.

Essential Two: Quality is measured by customer expectation. For example, every time she has the oil changed at a Saturn dealership, the automaker sends her a customer satisfaction survey.

Essential Three: The goal is to meet or exceed customer expectation 100 percent of the time.

Essential Four: Quality is attained through prevention. Kohl advises clients to use small steps to minimize variation in a process, which makes it easier to consistently meet standards. Her company uses visual aids like easy-to-read wall charts to share information quickly.

Essential Five: Management commitment and involvement lead the quality process. Kohl says management leads by trusting employees and giving them responsibility to make important decisions. Kohl says management must be committed to staff. "You can't have good customer satisfaction without employee empowerment." And, she adds, "You can't have good employee empowerment unless your management is empowered."