Article | MIT Sloan Management Review | spring 1991

Breaking the Cycle of Failure in Services

by Leonard A. Schlesinger and James Heskett


Most managers recognize that good service is a direct result of having effective, productive people in customer contact positions. However, most service companies perpetuate a cycle of failure by tolerating high turnover and expecting employee dissatisfaction. This self-perpetuating cycle of failure seems to ensure continuing deterioration of service quality, managerial problems, and long-term decreases in sales and profits. Many managers have fallen into the cycle of failure trap because of their assumptions about the labor pool, their attitudes about technology, and the lack of relevant information about the cost of perpetuating the cycle of failure. Patterns that lead to a cycle of success include the underlying assumptions that managers bring to a task and the way that they go about setting in motion the cycle of success. Common elements of strategy in successful programs include careful selection, realistic previews of the job and organization, and concentration on quality at the service core.

Keywords: Goals and Objectives; Service Delivery; Success; Failure; Management Skills; Service Industry;


Schlesinger, Leonard A., and James Heskett. "Breaking the Cycle of Failure in Services." MIT Sloan Management Review 32, no. 3 (spring 1991): 17–28.