I was on a holiday recently in Italy with my family. Everyday was a new experience- exploring new places, enjoying the sights and most importantly eating at different places. Some were very small local restaurants, some were more modern bistros, some well established fine dining places and some reasonably touristy restaurants. And one thing that my husband and I discussed at the end of every meal was the quality of service at any place we dined. It was almost always great. And this was true about many other places in Europe as well ,that I have traveled to frequently over the years.
I have always been amazed at how just 2 or 3 people manage the entire service for 30-40 table covers. It is usually one person who attends to you from start to the finish, be it taking the orders, bringing you the food, clearing the table and getting you the bill. He or she takes complete ownership to attend to you, keeps an eye on the amount of wine in your glass, or the water on your table, noticing if you have finished the first course and bring you the next etc. In case that person for some reason gets busy, the other waiter makes sure to cover for him or her, not letting the service slip because one of them got more occupied with a particular table. Also if there is a small accidental dropping of food or drink, they clean it up themselves. Other staff also will quickly rush to help.I have seen this sense of service in many other parts of the world in many restaurants and have always wondered if there is a French connection (who by the way are known to be the best waiters in the world!)!. And in such places, one always walks away with a very positive experience.
And contrast this with some places in India and elsewhere. Even in some of the well run restaurants, you will always find 3-4 people attending a table. There will be one ushering you to the table, another person taking the order, one getting the food, third one to clear the table, fourth one bringing the drinks etc. In addition don’t forget the presence of the supervisors, captains and a manager, all attired appropriately to differentiate them from the other staff!! And if you place any order with the one who is bringing the food, the person taking the order will come back to your table to take the order again. In case someone spills something, they will wait for the cleaning lady to come and clear the mess. Everyone else will walk around the mess and go about their tasks, as if it doesn’t concern them!
We experience service in many places in a retail outlet when trying on clothes and need help getting the right size or colours, when applying for a housing or vehicle loan, when buying an insurance etc. Every time I have had a positive experience, I have noticed that the person I am interacting with has taken complete ownership to make sure that I get the best service, and managed all the things towards it. The moment he or she says, his job is over and passes it on to another person for another task, I can see the service slipping. This is because each one is only focused on completing his or her task quickly without being concerned about customer’s total experience.
Often the assumption is that small organisations are more able to give better service. But in my experience it is not only the small outfits but some very large organizations too are able to consistently live out of the value of Service. Many organizations are able to “industrialize” service and ensure every person working there reflects it. I have experienced this with the Taj Hotels. Be it their restaurant staff, the house keeping or the front desk -you know that you can speak to anyone for a request and it will get done. How have they managed to embody service as a value so well?
I am convinced that there is a way to industrialize Service, by creating a sense of ownership in each employee. It will involve making every person in the organization aware of the larger purpose of the organization and how every single person can make or break that purpose; defining the behaviours that embody service. If service is a value in an insurance company, then one of the behaviors could be defined as “ensure that the customer gets all the relevant information upfront and a single person handholds the process from the beginning to the end”.
Equally critical is defining the behaviours that are taboos and not acceptable. eg. Passing on the request to someone else when a customer has a need.
Living out a value such as service all the time is not an easy task. Unless the individual fully subscribes and understands that the purpose of the business is to create the best possible experience for the customer, it is difficult to embody it. One has to be fully immersed in the task of doing the best at that moment taking full ownership for creating the best experience. That’s when we experience service that is exemplary and memorable.