Business Excellence: TREAT your customers right

Philip Knowles writer, tutor and mentor at Professional Academy

Business Excellence: TREAT your customers right.

When it comes to business excellence, I’ve never really understood RATER, the acronym from SERVQUAL (Zeithaml, Parasuraman & Berry, 1990). It stands for Reliability, Assurance, Tangibles, Empathy, Responsiveness, but this isn’t a logical sequence and RATER isn’t really a word.

So, I came up with my own acronym: TREAT.

While the TREAT idea holds true for all businesses, it’s easiest to explain it with the example of the hospitality industry.

When you experience a service, the first thing you notice are the Tangibles. If you go for lunch in a country pub, the car park is often around the back. When you get out of the car, the first thing you will see is the bins – and, possibly, a kitchen porter leaning out of the back door smoking a cigarette. The door to the right in this photograph is the front door of a restaurant in Newcastle. Not a good first impression of the service on offer.

Once you walk through the door you want someone to deal with you quickly and efficiently – in other words Responsiveness. So don’t leave people hanging around. A queue this long means you’re popular but people will soon lose patience and either wander off, or choose somewhere else next time.


                 "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside his skin and walk around it."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

A popular UK noodle bar now allows customers to pay via an App. The unintended consequence is that staff now tend to ignore customers who’ve been served, good luck trying to order more drinks or dessert, as the waiters focus on new arrivals. Empathy has gone AWOL. It’s not enough to be made welcome and be treated as a valued customer only until you start eating.  

The next step in the process is the confidence (or Assurance) that the service will be performed correctly, that the business understands your needs and, in a restaurant, that you will get the right food served in the right way at the right time. At a restaurant in Durham, I was served hot food on a cold plate and my dessert came on a plate so hot the ice cream had melted. The server looked surprised when I complained. In contrast, the photograph on the left is of the display that was in the garage reception area where I was getting the tracking adjusted on my car. They showed me the job was done correctly. 

The importance of this sequence of Tangibles, Responsiveness, Empathy and Assurance is that, without them, you can’t build Trust. Trust is what encourages us to return as a customer. Trust is what encourages us to recommend a business to friends and family. Trust is what will make a business sustainable in the future.

Trust takes an age to build and a moment to destroy – don’t leave it to chance – TREAT your customers well.


Applying TREAT to your business 

Regardless of what your business is, the TREAT principles should be at the heart of all functions. To help you Professional Academy had created Diplomas in Business Excellence. These are role-based skills training programmes to help business develop their management, sales, marketing, and customer service teams. 

Find out more about our in-company training services.