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Service Leaders Make A Difference

Service Leaders Make a Difference

It happened slowly. The service, which used to be terrific, was showing signs of degradation.

For me, it’s the little things that count. It’s a welcome smile, an invitation to be seated, a quick request for my beverage order and frequent visits to my table just to make sure everything was OK. The restaurant owner, who was almost always present in the past, had been absent during my last few visits.

She was a lovely woman with a pleasant disposition and boundless energy. Her entire demeanor just exuded and attitude of “welcome to my place.” It was as though “her place” was her house and she meant to show off just how comfortable and relaxed you could become by just being there. I’d say she held the bar high and encouraged those around her to stretch their capabilities and step outside their comfort zones so that visitors to her place would feel welcome, relaxed and well-served. She demonstrated her role as a leader and in any service industry good leadership is essential.

On a recent visit to this restaurant, the owner was absent again and so I waited in line with other patrons for an available table. As we waited, we could see eight empty tables that still contained the debris of their previous guests. The buss-person who worked at a slow pace, moving from one table to the next, could have used just a little help from the food servers. I know, if the owner was there, she would have rolled up her sleeves and invited the food servers to help clear the tables so that waiting guests could sit and be comfortable – but not today. In the absence of the owner, the buss person perfunctorily did his job and the food servers waited outside the kitchen for their food orders while guests waited in line. This was not hospitality. This is a classic case of employees serving the system and not serving the customers – all because the leader was absent.

In the absence of a good leader, front-line workers revert to doing what’s most comfortable for themselves.


Any service system is prone to have spikes in activity. The service events arrive in batches. It could be restaurant patrons waiting in a line for lunch or phone calls waiting in a queue for the next available rep. In busy service environments, a good leader understands the rhythm of activity. She has observed the spikes, the affect these spikes have on her operation and she has learned to be proactive so that these spikes don’t result in a bottleneck.

Any system constraint, which causes an operation to slow down to a crawl, will also have a negative effect on the system’s efficiency, the front-line workers and the customers. All three of these outcomes are inter-related.

A good leader knows this and strives to avert this negative outcome by fully utilizing her human assets and thereby ensuring efficiency and momentum.

For the front-line workers, the leader’s invitation to jump in and help clear the tables may seem like hard work which is over and above the norm. Perhaps it is. However, the good leader also knows that this short-term response to a spike results in happier customers, which will result in improved customer behavior which will result in less stress and greater job satisfaction for the front line workers. Given a choice to deal with the behavior of customers who are frustrated because they’ve been waiting for 15 minutes or customers who were seated immediately – which would you rather handle?

The phenomenon at this restaurant is common among organizations which are led by a charismatic leader who conveys vigor, vitality and vision. However, in the absence of a good leader, front-line workers revert to doing what’s most comfortable for them and unfortunately this is not what’s best for their customers or their operation.

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Steve Coscia

The road from professional musician to thirty-year customer service veteran to best-selling author and speaker is not a typical career path, but Steve Coscia may have started a new trend.

Coscia is one of the most widely published and quoted authorities in the customer service industry. He has published more than 200 articles, four books and a series of training DVDs. His college curriculum is taught at institutions of higher learning throughout the United States and Canada.

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