Real customer service | Inquirer Business

Real customer service

/ 05:12 AM February 24, 2022

I am the human resources head for a family-run information provider company,” says reader E.C. “We are surviving in the pandemic. Our biggest problem is not COVID-19, but how to make our employees treat customers better. Customers are complaining that our people are polite but they are not helpful. They are not going the extra mile. We pay competitive rates, and we hire from top schools. But the owners are not happy with what’s happening. How can we get better employees?”

My reply

The late Stephen Covey, who made “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” corporate buzzwords decades ago, says there are three ways to get good employees: hire them, train them or cultivate them.


You already hire from the top schools, but character, work ethic, customer service are not related to academics. If employees from whatever schools have a sense of entitlement, they will not last long in a service enterprise.

Covey gives the example of a major American airline that asks job applicants to do a presentation in front of company officials as part of the vetting process. The applicants think that the officers are evaluating them. But instead, the officers are more interested in the behavior of the audience—the other applicants who are waiting for their turn to speak. If the ones watching are attentive and supportive, that is a good sign. If they are bored, self-absorbed or don’t care at all about the presentations of others, then they are not a good fit for the airline.


Perhaps you can think about a hiring test that reflects customer service, rather than focusing on the scholastic background of your applicants.

Because you are a service company, I am certain that you train your employees. Training is essential for certain skills (what to say to customers, how to encode data, etc.), but I am not certain it will help them develop initiative or industriousness.

Covey describes how a well-known American business selects employees who are team players. Employees are divided into teams, and each team is given a complicated task. Some employees are self-centered—they control people, blame colleagues, bristle when critiqued. Some are nice but wishy-washy—they are popular, but they cannot deliver.

At the end, employees believe that they are evaluated based on the success of the task. But again, the officers are not the ones evaluating—their peers in the same groups are the ones evaluating each other. Employees are often shocked at this, and regret the way they treated each other.

It is said that character is what we do when no one is watching. How do we treat others, our equals, our subordinates, who are not our bosses? I suspect that your best employees (the ones your customers are happy with) treat fellow workers equally well. So you may want to use a version of the test above to see which of your employees are team players who treat people (workers and customers) with respect and who genuinely want to serve.

However, in his book “Primary Greatness,” Covey says, “You might hire it and train it, but the most powerful way to cultivate the service ethic is to develop strong social norms in the culture itself. When people begin to see that this is how we treat each other, you will then have a sustainable competitive advantage. The cultivation of the spirit of servant leadership will teach everyone to be kind, respectful and caring, even though some people aren’t naturally that way.”

You say your business owners are not happy with the people, but I have to ask: Are the people happy with the owners? Are they satisfied with what they are doing? If your employees are only working for the pay, then they will never go the extra mile.


How can a true spirit of service be inculcated in your company, starting from the top? That is what you and the owners need to work on.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her print book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]

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