A Systems Approach to Service Quality

© 2006 CORNELL UNIVERSITY DOI: 10.1177/0010880405279173 Volume 47, Number 1 36-48 www.HtmBam.blogfa.com 10.1177/0010880405279173 A Systems Approach ...
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© 2006 CORNELL UNIVERSITY DOI: 10.1177/0010880405279173 Volume 47, Number 1 36-48

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A Systems Approach to Service Quality Tools for Hospitality Leaders by MARK R. TESTA and LORI J. SIPE Rather than take the usually futile approach of repeatedly addressing the symptoms of service problems, managers should dig deeper until they reach the root causes of those problems. Even better is to enlist employees’ participation in determining the causes. To that end, managers could apply the time-tested approaches from total quality management and systems thinking, including the “5 Whys” (repeatedly asking why until the cause is revealed) and process flowcharting (creating a timeline of the service process). The process of listing hot spots and touch points can help work groups see where problems exist (hot spots) and identify chances to impress guests with excellent service (touch points). Managers can also use an employee-tools grid, which lists specific steps that can be taken to improve service in any of the following five categories: (1) define and communicate issues, (2) train and educate employees, (3) improve processes, (4) evaluate results and provide feedback, and (5) celebrate successes.

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Keywords: total quality management; systems analysis; service quality

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classic cartoon shows four people sitting in a sinking rowboat. Two of the people are high and dry at the bow of the boat, while the other two are desperately bailing water at the stern. One of the people at the bow says to the other, “I’m glad the problem is not on our end.” This cartoon illustrates the disconnect that can occur between causes and symptoms in hospitality organizations that are seeking to improve service quality. This disconnect can occur between leaders or departments at the senior level and those on the front lines, or between department leaders and the people who come directly into contact with guests. More important, the story illustrates the interrelationships between variables that on the surface may not seem related but in reality are connected in a

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way that prevents managers from developing long-term, effective solutions to service-quality problems. For more than a decade now, most hospitality organizations have been striving to provide the best quality possible with a relatively lean staff while keeping costs under control. Such efforts put pressure on line managers to maintain quality with a restricted pool of employees and limited resources. Unfortunately, the push to maintain or improve service quality while improving efficiency may actually damage quality, just as widespread layoffs during recessions impair workers’ sense of security and their productivity. One way to offset the challenges of scaled-down organization is to take a systems approach to management. The purpose of this article is to review the concept of systems thinking and illustrate how “quick fixes” fail to fundamentally improve service quality. Indeed, in the absence of a systems approach, managers may actually be working at crosspurposes without being aware of it. Furthermore, this article will guide hospitality managers in systems thinking, so as to avoid the trap of short-term solutions. We have seen little or no discussion of systems thinking in the hospitality literature, particularly in relation to those who have tremendous influence on customer service employee behavior, namely, the frontline service leaders.

Systems Thinking Systems thinking requires an understanding of the multiple relationships between parts or segments of a system. Systems thinkers recognize key patterns and interrelationships and anticipate the implications of their actions on other parts of the organization. They practice option 1 thinking. Systems-oriented supervisors anticipate as many crises as possible and

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have plans in place to deal with them. They apply a framework when solving problems or implementing change that incorporates a broad range of perspectives and integrates a variety of employee tools. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is an example of a hospitality business that has been successful in implementing systems approaches without losing its sense of urgency in guest satisfaction. One of the Ritz-Carlton Basics, for instance, is never to lose a guest, stated as follows: “Instant guest pacification is the responsibility of each employee.” This empowerment is coupled with the requirement to record any incident and post the handling of the incident via companywide e-mail. Periodic analyses of common issues lead to process changes using a defined method. Results and improvements are communicated in the daily “Commitment to Quality” newsletter. Ritz-Carlton employees systematize the way they implement service quality by learning from each other and continually improving the processes necessary to serve guests with changing preferences. To contribute to the longrange profitability of the hospitality organizations, frontline supervisors need tools for understanding and tools for implementing a systems approach to service quality.

Symptoms versus Problems As a starting point for understanding systems thinking, the image of an iceberg, as shown in Exhibit 1, is often used as a 2 metaphor for an organization. Managers can see the tip of the iceberg, that is, the events that occur day to day and that indicate that something is wrong. Visible cues at the “event” level might include a guest complaint, an employee who does not follow procedure to resolve a guest issue, or a conflict between an employee and a guest. In most situations, the frontline managers’ primary responsibility is to address

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Exhibit 1: Event versus Systemic Service-Related Problems

problem-related events on the spot and fix the issues they confront (i.e., those they can see). Unfortunately, the effort, energy, and resources used for service recovery typically do little or nothing to fix the causes of the problems that lie under the surface, at the base of the figurative iceberg. If line managers cannot address the root causes of these events, a cyclical process occurs whereby the same servicerelated problems continue to emerge regardless of how often the manager addresses them. Indeed, the same cause may create multiple negative events. The systems-thinking approach suggests that interventions should be made at the root-cause level. For example, a service manager might begin to realize that certain event-level situations happen repeatedly. This level of awareness is

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termed the pattern level, which involves the sense that these events seem to be related and either increasing or decreasing. The next level of awareness is termed the “structural” level. This suggests that managers can begin to see how the events taking place at the tip of the iceberg are caused by the systems and structures created to accomplish organizational goals. This might include the organizational structure and the policies, procedures, and rules developed to run the organization efficiently. Going further, one may not be able to make changes at the structural level without addressing key assumptions made at 4 the “mental model” level, which addresses shared perceptions of how to accomplish organizational goals. For example, the organizational structure, policies, and

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procedures were created because certain assumptions were made about how to ensure guest satisfaction. Finally, organizational goals are developed at the “vision” level, which is at the root of the iceberg, where one examines the sense of the direction the organization is taking. At this level one considers what are the most important outcomes for the organization and whether, for example, guest satisfaction or profitability is the overriding measure of the organization’s success. To illustrate how these levels of understanding coincide, Peter Senge and his colleagues provide a classic example. In a well-publicized 1992 situation, Sears Automotive faced a number of lawsuits 5 alleging fraud on the part of its operators. Complaints skyrocketed about the com6 pany’s service and repair policies. Exhibit 2 shows an example of how an individual guest complaint in a matter like this is linked to the structural level. The outcome of the Sears allegations was a loss of 15 percent of its national auto repair business (20 percent in California) and an $8 million settlement. Because the negative activity taking place at the event level (effect) was so distant from the mental model level (cause), it was difficult for policy makers and managers alike to see how the problem had developed. Another example of the impact of failing to identify root causes of issues is the controversial Euro Disney venture. In an attempt to expand in Europe, Disney opened the park in 1992 just outside of Paris. Almost from the start, the park was plagued with problems and almost went 7 bankrupt. The primary reason for such dismal performance was a failure to see how cultural differences between the U.S. and its Western counterparts damaged guests’ perception of the park. This resulted primarily from making surface-

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level changes to address the issue, such as making French the primary language and changing the names of some of the attractions. Conversely, the predominant U.S. culture that is so much a part of Disney did not change. For example, Disney rules like serving no alcohol or restrictive dress and grooming codes for staff members were seen as an insult to French and European culture. Indeed, the limited efforts made to address the cultural differences may have inflamed the situation. The result was resistance by European tourists and subsequent financial problems. This underlying problem faced by Disney stemmed from beliefs and actions at the mental model and structural levels of the iceberg. The surface-level changes were not enough to address the root causes of the problem. In addition, no matter what tactical actions were taken to deal with the day-to-day symptoms of the problem (e.g., guest complaints, dissatisfaction), the flood of problems would continue as the issues had not been dealt with at the systems level.

Unintended Consequences The Sears and Euro Disney examples illustrate how actions aimed at the event level can actually make matters worse in the absence of deeper analysis. Sears wanted to improve the profitability and market share of its automotive business. However, its assumption about the best way to accomplish both goals was flawed. In the absence of other controls, an incentive based on bill size and speed of service has the capacity to encourage corruption and shoddy work. Unless the situation is viewed from a systems perspective, it may be impossible to see that Sears caused its own problem. For Disney, changes made to be responsive to European tourists might have well provoked greater resistance. In that situation, efforts to increase

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Exhibit 2: Applying Sears’s Guest Service Problem to Systems Levels

Level Event level Pattern level Structural level Mental model level Vision level

Problem A guest complaint takes place regarding service quality at an individual Sears location. Guest complaints about Sears auto service increase 50 percent from 1990 to 1992. Incentive policy is based on the size of the customer’s bill and service speed instituted. Sears executives assume that the best way to increase profitability is to provide incentives. Sears strives to be profitable and increase market share however both begin to slip.

market share and profitability actually reduced market share and profitability. Such examples can occur on a smaller scale in other segments of the hospitality industry. For example, in looking for new and creative methods of increasing revenue, hotels could potentially lose customers who become frustrated with increased no m i n a l co s t s . I n d e e d , a r e c e n t PricewaterhouseCoopers survey suggests that hotel companies have increased pricing on amenities (e.g., in-room fax and phone services, cancellation and early departures) in an effort to increase reve8 nue. While some companies have reduced pricing due to customer backlash, the result was a number of lawsuits filed against properties managed by Hilton Hotels, Marriott International, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. A similar situation can occur in the cruise industry, where add-on pricing has become popular, or in the restaurant industry, when guests become irritated with operations that increase prices or trim back portion sizes to reduce cost. In these situations, the unintended consequences may be a loss of profitability when the intention was to increase it. Traditionally, applying systems thinking would take

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place only at the executive level. However, systems thinking may be equally important for line managers and supervisors striving to improve service quality.

The Process Approach Just as large organizational problems may inadvertently be caused by actions designed to prevent them, individual managers may be the cause of their own service-related problems. For example, say that a front-desk supervisor harshly reprimands an employee for being late to work. The supervisor’s goal is to make sure that the front desk is staffed properly to ensure the best service level for guests. Unfortunately, the supervisor’s approach to this problem leaves the employee feeling frustrated and angry, which translates into 9 poor service quality. The supervisor’s assumption about the need for a full staff, as opposed to maintaining service personnel who have a positive attitude, may actually hinder efforts to improve quality. Similarly, consider a restaurant manager who attempts to improve quality by focusing on the proper steps of service. Unfortunately, with such a narrow focus the manager may fail to explain clearly the restaurant’s goal of excellent service, and

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so many of the staff members are apathetic toward following the restaurant’s goals. As a result, the manager continues to push for compliance, which in turn degrades the employees’ attitudes and causes greater apathy. Scenarios of this kind can play out repeatedly unless hospitality leaders are able to see the relationship between their actions and outcomes. By looking at the process used to achieve outcomes, rather than the outcomes alone, hospitality managers may be able to break the death spiral of events like this. Exhibit 3 provides a graphic representation of the difference between focusing on outcomes alone and focusing on the processes used to achieve those outcomes. For example, an outcomes-focused leader would spend time, energy, and resources on directly improving profitability. Such actions would include cutting costs, forcing sales, and talking up the need to increase profitability. It is well understood in the service sector that the pathway to achieving profitability is through service 10 quality. An outcomes-focused manager attempting to directly improve service quality would most likely be spending a lot of time “telling” employees to provide service quality or using a quick-fix approach, as in Exhibit 4. As we already pointed out, pushing or forcing employees to engage in actions to which they may not be committed can be counterproductive. In both of the situations we just outlined, where the goal is to influence the outcome, managers will have limited success because they may not be focusing on the drivers of those outcomes. That is, rather than focus on the outcome alone (i.e., a short-term focus, quick fixes), hospitality managers would do well to focus on the processes that will produce the outcomes. In Exhibit 3, for instance, those processes might include

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not only setting service standards but clarifying why those standards are important. This reduces confusion and helps to build commitment to the goal. Managers might coach service employees and provide feedback on how they are achieving those service standards and improving performance. Next, boosting the service staff’s job satisfaction and morale would directly 11 augment the level of service provided. As employees’ attitudes improve, so does the quality of interaction with guests. Finally, a process-focused manager could work on developing teamwork, which encourages helping behavior among the employees and improves the work environment. It is important to note that to truly alter the service environment, each of the previously mentioned process activities must 12 take place simultaneously. The activities are interdependent, and engaging in only one tactic while ignoring the others may achieve only limited results. Being aware of the process approach in preference to the outcome approach, managers will be able to determine their current focus and make necessary changes. The question is, how do hospitality managers develop an understanding of process or systems thinking?

Tools for Hospitality Managers In establishing a systems approach, it may be helpful to review the principles espoused by proponents of total quality management (TQM), notably, W. Edwards Deming’s Fourteen Points (see Sidebar 13 1). Supervisors are part of the system; getting managers to understand that what they do has broad implications is just the first step toward creating a climate in which everyone is working toward improving long term service quality. Two areas of

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Exhibit 3: The Process Approach in Service Quality

Process Set/Clarify Standards Provide Feedback

Desired Outcome Improved Service Quality

Profitability

Improve Morale & Job Sat. Develop Teamwork

Process Approach

TQM that seem particularly applicable to the frontline hospitality supervisor are root-cause analysis and service-process mapping. We single out these areas because they can be effectively used by work groups. They are tools that can make it easier for employees to fend off potential service problems and empower them to improve service for future guests.

The 5 Whys The 5 Whys tool, developed from early work on TQM at Toyota Production Systems (TPS), was one of the tools that Toyota used to identify root causes of problems. TPS is credited with creating the just-in-time production method, which has been described as the “the least-cost 14 method of manufacturing.” Using an interdependent approach to quality and

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Outcome Focus

quantity tools while maintaining a genuine concern for employees, TPS sought to reduce production error and maximize efficiency. The process may be employed by individuals or used in a work group trying to determine the cause of a current service-related difficulty. The process itself is just as important as the outcome, because the process forces managers to continually question the underlying reasons for the situations they face. In simplest term, managers pose the question “why” to the problem being analyzed at least five times or as many times as is necessary to identify the root cause. In answering each “why,” the layers or symptoms are slowly peeled away, and the analysis delves farther down the levels of the figurative iceberg. For instance,

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Exhibit 4: Examples of Common Quick Fixes

Traditional Quick Fix (Event Level) Talking up the service problem at a meeting or two. Making an example of someone who provides poor service. New, hastily conceived rules or polices (e.g., “From now on . . . ”). Short-term crackdowns on service quality. One-time employee sit-downs. “Pushing” or forcing employees to comply with policies.

1. Why is the guest checking in dissatisfied? Because he had to wait ten minutes to check in. 2. Why did he have to wait ten minutes to check in? Because we were short two employees at the front desk. 3. Why were we short two people? Because we don’t have enough people on the schedule. 4. Why don’t we have enough people on the schedule? Because two people quit this week. 5. Why did two people quit this week? Because they didn’t like the way they were being treated by the front-desk manager.

In this scenario, it is easy to see how a day-to-day guest-service problem is caused by a much larger situation at a deeper level. The purpose of this tool is to identify root causes, but in application the root cause or problem may be found to cause a number of symptoms. Take a case of influenza (the problem), for instance. Not only does the patient have a fever (symptom 1), but may also be congested (symptom 2), feel run down (symptom 3), and have a cough (symptom 4). Before any intervention can take place, it is vitally important to determine the root causes of all those systems; otherwise solutions

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Long-Term Option (System Level) An action plan designed to address the problem’s root causes. Determining the causes of poor service behavior and providing feedback. Identifying root causes and developing policies that address these causes, rather than symptoms. Changes in service climate and organizational culture. Individualized training and development efforts. Developing commitment to the organization’s goals and vision.

remain at the symptom level. Next, a tool that helps to illustrate the relationships between problems and multiple symptoms will be discussed, followed by suggestions for addressing the root causes.

Hot Spots and Touch Points Process flowcharting is another TQM tool that can be implemented at the department or work group level to assist managers in becoming more process focused. “A service map is a management tool for depicting the chronology of tasks and activities undertaken by the consumer, front-line, and support teams in the perfor15 mance of work.” One way to embolden managers and employees to provide excellent service is to ask them to delineate the guest’s experience on a timeline and then examine the guest’s day one memory at a time. A tool titled “Hot Spots and Touch Points” (see Sidebar 2) was created by the authors to assist theme-park work groups in becoming more proactive in their approach to service, but it can be easily implemented by work groups in all

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Deming’s Fourteen Points 1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aims of becoming competitive, staying in business, and providing jobs. 2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change. 3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. 4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust. 5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs. 6. Institute training on the job. 7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul as well as supervision of production workers. 8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company. 9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service. 10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the workforce. 11a. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.

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aspects of hospitality to improve the guest experience in a systematic way. In this analysis, work groups detail the guest experience chronologically point by point and identify “hot spots” and “touch points” in those lists. Hot spots are those points that have the potential to be guest dissatisfiers. In a theme park, these could include lengthy queues and show attendance cutoffs. These are potential weaknesses and complaint areas that often require recovery efforts. Touch points, on the other hand, have the potential to please the guest. They might include unexpected special treatment at a show, a birthday song in a restaurant, or an offer to assist with a group photo. These points have the potential to delight guests because the actions are unexpected and create lifetime memories. To implement the analysis in a work group or department, 1. Ask the group to visualize the customer’s visit, from before the customer arrives at the destination, all the way through his or her experience, and even the action and conversations that occur after the customer leaves. 2. Use a timeline to draw each step in a typical guest experience as described by the group. This is essentially a simplified service process map. 3. Group members record ten hot spots and ten touch points applicable to their area. 4. A group member shares one hot spot and one touch point, and the entire group brainstorms strategies to mitigate the hot spot or ideas for making a memory at the touch point.

The exhibit in Sidebar 2 shows an example of a hot spots and touch points template. This tool helps employees view the guest experience as a process and identify the employees’ role in the service system. At the same time, it is the basis of employee actions. Each employee goes back to the workplace armed with plans to mitigate hot spots and make use of touch points to create lasting memories.

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The frontline manager models the use of the tool by employing the terms hot spot and touch point when appropriate. Instead of waiting for a fire to start, the manager might indicate a potential hot spot and suggest ways to stop it from happening in the first place, or the shift manager might begin a shift meeting by challenging each line employee to identify a touch point and a method for making a memory. These kinds of conversations lead to proactive thinking and the acknowledgment that each frontline employee is empowered to and capable of influencing guest service.

Employee Tools Grid To be effective, frontline managers need to make abstract and complex problems understandable and actionable to their employees. Grids are one way to structure things in an accessible way for workers. A tools grid, for instance, can be used by frontline supervisors as a comprehensive framework for implementing change and making improvements. The grid contains five categories of tools, developed from an analysis of the root causes of hundreds of service problems in hospitality that showed that the root causes of most service problems can be categorized into one of five areas, as follows: (1) Define and communicate. Many service issues occur simply because the employee did not know what he or she was supposed to do (it had never been defined) or a change was not communicated. (2) Train and educate. Untrained employees create service problems or miss opportunities to make a lasting favorable impression. (3) Improve processes. Bottlenecks, inefficient processes, and poorly designed methods of interaction are the root causes of many service failures. These are often situations where superior service recovery is required just to provide minimal satisfaction to the customer. (4) Evaluate and

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Deming’s Fourteen Points (continued) 11b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership. 12a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to joy of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. 12b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to joy of workmanship. This means abolishment of the annual merit rating and of management by objective. 13. Institute a vigorous program of education and selfimprovement. 14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job. Source: W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982).

give feedback. Lack of evaluation leads to not being aware of problems, and lack of feedback dooms one to continue making the same mistakes. (5) Celebrate successes. The root of some service problems is lack of motivation, desire, and seeing the benefit of one’s actions. Together, these five categories create the framework for the employee tools grid. Supervisors can use the categories to list the existing tools for managing in their areas, identify gaps where new tools are needed, and easily integrate changes and improvements. As many employees as possible should participate in the creation of the tools grid. This can serve as a communication tool, but also creates a systems-oriented mindset. The work group and its leader complete the grid by filling in the existing employee tools, as shown in Exhibit 5. A thorough listing of all the tools available to the work group should provide a

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Sample Hot Spots and Touch Points Template HOT SPOTS 1. ____________________ 2. ____________________ 3. ____________________ 4. ____________________ 5. ____________________ 6. ____________________ 7. ____________________ 8. ____________________ 9. ____________________ 10.____________________

First Interaction G U E S T

TOUCH POINTS 1. ___________________ 2. ___________________ 3. ___________________ 4. ___________________

E X P E R I E N C E Last Interaction

5. ___________________ 6. ___________________ 7. ___________________ 8. ___________________ 9. ___________________ 10.___________________

Hot Spots and Touch Points This tool was developed for Busch Entertainment Corporation (BEC) as part of a comprehensive guest-service-improvement initiative. A Gallup survey conducted in August 2002 at six of BEC’s theme parks indicated improvement opportunities in both the technical and expressive service areas. The terms hot spots and touch points were created to assist work group leaders in communicating the differences between guest dissatisfiers and satisfiers. The tool has been used for two years as part of the managers’ guest-service-training program and has been successful in the development of improvement initiatives by the various work groups. Work-group managers’ evaluation forms suggest that the tool helps facilitate discussions and has been a useful component because it can be implemented entirely within the work group, encourages idea sharing, and empowers line workers to create guest memories.—M.R.T. and L.J.S.

communication refresher but will likely prompt the group to discuss why many tools are underused. After the grid is completed with a minimum of five sample tools per category, the work group spends the next month or so logging service problems. The work group then reconvenes to

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discuss the service problems and their root causes and to reexamine the tools grid. A discussion of the problems and the potential tools to assist with solving the problems would ensue. For example, a work group might find that many of its recent service problems relate to a lack of product knowledge. It may be that the tools to define and communicate do not include a product-knowledge tool, or there may be a need to create a tool to train and educate employees in product knowledge. Another group of problems might have employee motivation as its root cause. The group might discover there is a need to revamp the tools in the celebrate-success category. Another work group might consistently have accountability issues at the core of its service problems. Using the grid, this group may discover that few effective tools exist in the evaluate-andfeedback category. After awhile, the framework itself helps to shape systems thinking. Problems and opportunity discussions begin to revolve around how to use tools to prevent future problems.

Recommendations for Hospitality Managers Although the resolution of some service-related problems is beyond the authority of frontline managers, the tools presented here provide a greater understanding of how to address those problems and offer a foundation for comprehensive solutions at the individual and group levels. The following recommendations provide some further direction for hospitality managers. 1. Use information to help illustrate (define and communicate) the causes of servicerelated problems. A constant flow of information facilitates the process of revealing root causes. Make guest letters, corporate communication, and interdepartmental process problems available to employees. It is rare to find an employee who admits he

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Exhibit 5: Example of Employee Tools Grid Define and Communicate

Train and Educate

Improve Processes

Evaluate and Feedback

Celebrate Successes

Job description

Alcohol server training

Registration process flowchart

Line speed survey

Profit sharing

Side work Breakdown

Service standards workshop

Guest check out procedure

Guest comment cards

Best practice forums

Communication Bulletin Board

Cash handling refresher

Special event improvement team

Quarterly performance reviews

Monthly innovation awards

Respect in the Workplace video

Opening process

Nightly reports

Spotlight employee “touch point” stories

Daily Log book

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knows “too much” about what is going on in the company. Conversely, hoarding or limiting information will help to keep solutions at the event level. 2. Take time to incorporate (train and educate) systems-thinking exercises into training sessions and educational seminars at all levels. For frontline supervisors, a workshop on hot spots and touch points might help to improve service quality. In this regard, top managers can train frontline managers to use an employee tools grid and share how their tools have made their jobs easier. 3. Make continuous improvement (improve processes) a business fundamental. Use process charts to depict interdependencies in the flow of service and opportunities for improvement. Map the guest experience to determine whether proactive measures can prevent problems. Empanel at least one cross-functional team that will work to improve a valuable process. Evaluate technology options for improving key business functions. 4. Use data (evaluate and give feedback) to drive decisions. Make sure that measurement processes appropriately gauge the outcomes of business strategy, department plans, and individual performance reviews and development plans. In addition to taking into account financial performance, include predictive measures in the employeesatisfaction and customer-satisfaction areas. For example, reward improvements in

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transaction time (speed of service) and guest-satisfaction ratings (personality of service) that can lead to repeat visitation and ultimately increased revenues. Encourage managers to follow up on climate survey data and brainstorm ways their work group can improve their employee satisfaction scores by identifying root causes. Encourage frontline managers to provide regular constructive feedback on the job, as opposed to periodic performance reviews. 5. Recognize (celebrate successes) systemsoriented approaches that improve long-term profitability, rather than just reward shortterm financial successes. Sponsor internal best-practice forums to ensure that good ideas are shared and incorporated in other areas of the company. Use celebrations to reinforce company culture as well as a means of institutionalizing new approaches and ideas.

By understanding and implementing the tools and recommendations described here, service leaders should have a foundation for addressing chronic servicerelated problems. The real benefit of such tools is the flexibility to apply them in varying types of situations. In the hospitality environment where service quality is the industry’s bread and butter, the sys-

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tems approach may be critical for success in the future. Endnotes 1. K. Albrecht, Brain Power: Learn to Improve Your Thinking Skills (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987). 2. K. Wile and M. Goodman, “Leading in a Complex World” (Systems Thinking in Action Conference, Fleetwood OnSite Conference Recording, San Diego, CA, 2002). 3. Ibid. 4. P. M. Senge, A. Kleiner, C. Roberts, R. B. Ross, and B. Smith, The Fifth Discipline Fiedbook (New York: Doubleday, 1994). 5. Ibid.; and D. Gellene and T. Shryer, “Sears Drops Car Repair Incentives,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1992, p. D1. 6. K. Kelly and E. Schine, “How Did Sears Blow a Gasket?” Business Week, June 29, 1992, p. 38.

8. M. Org, “Hotel Guests Pay Higher Charges for Amenities,” Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2003, p. D3. 9. M. D. Hartline and O. C. Ferrell, “The Management of Customer-Contact Service Employees: An Empirical Investigation,” Journal of Marketing 60 (1996): 52-70. 10. D. H. Maister, “What Managers Must Do to Create a HighAchievement Culture,” Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly 42, no. 6 (December 2001): 90-96. 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid. 13. W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982). 14. Y. Monden, Toyota Production System: An Integrated Approach to Just in Time (Norcross, GA: Engineering & Management Press, 1998). 15. J. Kingman-Brundage, “Service Mapping: Gaining a Concrete Perspective on Service System Design,” in The Service Quality Handbook, ed. E. E. Scheuing and W. F. Christopher (New York: Amacom, 1993).

7. J. Forman, “Corporate Image and the Establishment of Euro Disney: Mickey Mouse and the French Press,” Technical Communication Quarterly 7 (1998): 247-59.

Mark R. Testa, Ph.D., is a professor in the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at San Diego State University ([email protected]), where Lori J. Sipe, M.B.A, is a lecturer ([email protected] mail.sdsu.edu).

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