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!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Future of Quality and thoughts from young minds (not mine!)


We all make our living through quality and should be interested in what the future for Quality looks like. Well, we are lucky. ASQ is doing this for us as they have done for last several years. Paul Borawski, CEO of ASQ and someone working closely on the report has raised a very interesting question. He argues that the future of quality perhaps is critical to the youth of today but the people working the Futures study are all well beyond being categorised as youth. Is there something that we will miss? What do the youth think about quality and its future?


I hate to admit, but I also don’t quality as young by Pual’s definition of 35 years.  But I am not that far off so I can probably answer his question. I also speak to people in quality and many are younger. I spoke to a few for this response. So, I am well prepared, which is not usually the case.


What do professionals under the age of 35 see as the future of quality?
    • Firstly, they want products and services that just work.  No surprise. As long as human kind makes products and delivers services there will be other humans who will want these products and services to work. Or they won’t pay. 
    • Secondly, they want more features. As I discussed more on this I was surprised, more features don’t mean more features necessarily. It means simpler features in most cases. Example: An iPad actually has more features but makes its simpler to do things. The ‘Senior’ phone on market is another interesting feature phone. It’s simpler.
    • Thirdly, they want lower prices. Again no surprises.

What do young people in quality think about the future of quality? This is more of a worry for us (oldies) than to the youth. I interview a lot of people to try and fill positions I have and more often than not I am appalled at the quality of candidates who wish to make a career in Quality. To me this is very strong lead indicator for where our profession is headed.
I know I am a magnet for poor quality, but I don’t want to believe that only the candidates coming to me are causal and shallow on their quality knowledge. 
I do sometimes, land good candidates. And it is a delight to meet them and interact and they resurrect my confidence that the future of quality may well be in competent hands.  Here are some of the themes I hear from them:
    • Quality should and will be on the CEOs desk. I have met some high quality young professionals who want to make a future in quality and they want to interact with the CEO.  Otherwise they will find another profession!
    • Quality should be tied to company strategy for us to make a difference.  The good candidates I meet are very keen to work with companies where they see quality is a company strategy and not just a Six Sigma program.

I was also intrigues by Paul’s lament that the youth today doesn’t even know who Deming and Juran were. Well, I would blame the current generation of quality professionals. How many of us know about Deming and Juran and an even more depressing question is how many of us take the trouble to talk about them when we conduct training sessions.  How will the youth know, if we don’t teach?
What can we do about the future of quality today to make it better tomorrow? I have written about it earlier and will repeat:
    • Don’t tolerate poor quality…raise your voice
    • If you want the youth to be interested in quality, be a role model.

Is it that easy? Maybe not.  But we have to start sometime and the best time is NOW.