Thursday, September 22, 2011

Excellent service is more an attitude than a skill!

On my recent trip to Melbourne I finally decided to listen to advice. I am usually horrible at doing what I am asked to do. It doesn’t help that I am plain, LAZY. I was told if you are in Melbourne don’t miss the Great Ocean Road tour. Now, we all get such recommendations and I was all set to disregard it as advice from over-enthusiastic well-wishers. Something in me told, don’t miss this one. And I didn’t and am so happy I didn’t.

After much scrutiny of the options available we selected AAT Kings, one of three popular operators of tours in Melbourne. The product seemed good but service was exceptional from the time I made the first call. This was perhaps, the most consistent display of excellent service I have ever seen.

The booking was smooth and precise. In fact it was so smooth that I was worried something has gone wrong. I actually called back and checked if the right booking was made. We are so used to poor quality that when we do get good service we cant believe our luck. The bus was ready and left bang on time. Glad that we were on time!

The drive was made brilliant by Lance our tour operator. He is my new benchmark in customer delight. Lance was a teacher for 27 years before taking up this job. He has raised the profile of a tour driver by several notches. He knew almost everything about that was required to be known on the tour. This included history of the several towns on the way, flora and fauna, the 12 Apostles and the science behind their formation, and the list is endless. Lance offered and happily clicked photographs of tourists from the bus and never once broke a traffic rule in the 600 km journey.

On the way back he saw another tour bus had broken down and he volunteered to take as many passengers as he could. Lance was so thoughtful about his customers that he gave a quick overview of the various precincts in Melbourne where we could go for dinner that night. He even dropped us very close to one of the major Precincts.

Lance, if you are reading this – you are amazing!

I really wish Bill Bryson, author of Down Under had met Lance. I am certain his book would have been an even better read with Lance in it.

What worked for Lance but doesn’t work for most people in service industry?

Dignity of labour – Lance just did not think he was a tour operator or a driver. He thought his was the most important job ever. He loved it.

Knowledge and desire to learn more – Lance knew all that was to know about the whole route. But his desire to learn more was still vibrant at an age most people want to retire.

Wit and humour – he treated the passengers as his equals. I have for long believed that being subservient in a service situation actually works against the service provider. Lance had a joke to crack most of time and was happy to take one himself.

Compare Lance with Sandeep now. Sandeep is a waiter at the Shiraaj, a restaurant in Dockland’s Melbourne. Shiraaj was a self proclaimed fine-dining Indian restaurant. Now Indian food, such is its nature, will leave your fingers stained. As a practice I asked for a finger bowl and got a rude response that we are a fine-dining restaurant and hence no finger bowls. I almost blew my top but was only retrained by presence of colleagues and not wanting to create a scene in a foreign land. Now, I am not a foodie to the extent who would know if Indian restaurants are expected to have finger bowls or no but I am sure there was a better way to let me know there is none. Very poor customer orientation. This once incident spoiled the entire experience at Shiraaj and left us wondering why did we even want to have Indian food in Melbourne. Why not be Roman in Rome!

A third example is of Rohan, in-charge of catering at the learning centre where I trained while in Melbourne. Rohan was quick to notice that being a strict vegetarian I had diet limitations. Once he figured out what will work for me he ensured that every single meal for the next week I was taken care of. He did not have to do this but he was driven by by his desire to be excellent at what he was doing.

As I pondered over these cases I debated whether a training program would have made a difference for Lance, Sandeep, and Rohan?

I am more convinced than ever that excellent service is more an attitude than a skill. If you want to deliver excellent service look at your recruitment process, not training!

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