In Service Cultures, “What You Manage Is What You Get”

January 11, 2013 — 4 Comments

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How often have you experienced unfriendly or grumpy service on an airline, in a restaurant, or in another service environment? Quite a few times, I imagine. In the vast majority of cases, I would take a bet that this is not so much a result of poor hiring or training, but a reflection of a poor internal culture.

Service brands often use the vocabulary of theater to describe what good service looks like. They talk about “performance,” “scripts,” and “stages” when instructing their staff. However, they forget one crucial difference between acting and working as a service provider. On the stage, the performer has a chance to prepare, and can treat the moment as a separate experience. A sales clerk in a retail environment has to cope with unpredictable customers and shifting levels of demand — never having the opportunity to distinguish the “performance” from the rest of the job.

When brands attempt to script their service performance, but do not give equal attention to their internal culture, it should be no wonder that these organizations inevitably fail to meet consistent service standards. Companies that have combative relationships with their employees, or fail to engage staff in a respectful way, risk seeing these same negative attitudes filter into staff interactions with customers.

Famously great service brands — such as NordstromSouthwest Airlines, and Four Seasons Hotels — go out of their way to develop respectful and positive corporate cultures that act as the foundation for great service. One of my local favorites in San Francisco is Bi-Rite Market. Owners Sam and Raph Mogannam have created a positive and inclusive culture that extends beyond employees, all the way to suppliers and the local community. A few simple behaviors guide how staff interact with customers, known as “guests.” Everything else comes down to the naturally optimistic and helpful personality of staff who work in an enjoyable and supportive culture.

Where might your corporate culture be obstructing your ability to deliver the best experiences to your customers?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Tim Brown


4 responses to In Service Cultures, “What You Manage Is What You Get”

  1. Good reminder…two comments:

    1. When hiring in service industry always always always hire attitude over aptitude. Aptitude can be taught…a shitty attitude is not only unfixable it is also contagious!

    2. If you get #1 correct, delighting your employees = delighting your customers. Attitude reflects leadership.

  2. The theatre link is apt and I would liken giving good service more to improvisational theatre than any other form. Even in improv there are rules or parameters such as what the scene is about. In service cultures this equates with knowing the organisation’s values and vision. These are, in effect, the parameters guiding the overall experience.

    Examples of this might be (to cite a local appliances company) “it’s the putting right that counts”. Consequently, any issues with product are replaced or refunded immediately and I suspect it is one of the primary reasons why, after 80+ years, they are still in business.

  3. Last October I was in New York for 11 days and as I was on vacation, I tried to visit a different restaurant or pub each day. In all restaurants, when I finished eating and was still having a drink with my cousin, the waiter usually approached the table to ask us if we wanted anything else. If we said no, that we were just having a chat, the waiter would bring the check right away even if we didn’t ask for it. Maybe it’s because I’m from Brazil and it’s a different culture, but I felt awful ‘cos it seemed like they wanted us to go away immediately to give the table to another customer (even when the restaurants were empty they did the same thing).

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