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  • Giles Gordon-Smith

Are you Blind to the Mediocrity of Service?

My sudden blindness had left me unable to engage in one of life’s great pleasures; an experience that I’ve had the good fortune to lose myself in on countless occasions at home and abroad.

Perusing a new menu.

Observing my failing attempts to squint, hand-shield and squirm away from the low-slung winter Studland sunshine, a waiter passed by his colleague at our table, lobbied support from our neighbouring diners and a flash later, lowered the Roman blinds the necessary 9 inches to provide shielding from the rays. “That’s better… I’ll have the Poole Bay ray wing please”. A shared smile and a nod between us was all that was required and he was on his way, leaving his subtle but invaluable impact on our experience.

This is an anecdote passed on to me on Monday morning by my great colleague and confidante, Jacques (not his real name, we do covert operations, after all). The act itself isn’t necessarily the thing that inspires us, it’s the myriad occurrences that contribute to the decision taken at that moment in time, that gets our juices flowing.

Assuming there’s a sturdy backbone to the operation in place – good food, a well put together restaurant (in this instance, with a spectacular view) and a current and relevant set of standards, you are on the road to a consistently ‘decent’ experience. But, are you spending enough time thinking about what goes into those multitude of moments that separate the mediocre from the marvelous, the ‘meh’ from the memorable?

Relax, Jacques and I spoil all our special meals with our wives doing this thinking for you. Take our star at The Pig on The Beach (10 Penshee points if you’d deduced as much). Let’s call him Caesar.

To execute that moment of impactful service, Caesar needed to do two things:

1: See an opportunity

2: Decide to do something

Let’s take each point in turn.

1: Seeing the opportunity requires that two fundamental things happen:

A) Observation – to physically navigate your place of work, with your peripheral antenna fully extended and a spotlight of attention placed in the most relevant places*. This is a balance between the physical ‘things of service’ and the verbal and non-verbal cues that are constantly being passed on to us.

B) Perspective – Perception of a situation is principally dictated by two things; namely, life and work experiences. Simplified to the bones, do you know what it feels like to be sitting where your guest is, and do you understand what they really need from you? Maybe we can even blend all of this down into one emotional power shot – empathy?

(*Service hack - I used to get team members to work a figure of 8 around the floor/their section and report back on three observations).

2: Decision time – to do, or not to do?

So, the horse is at the stream, but as yet, is drink-less. What’s needed? One word, subject of a veritable tower of self-help books and perpetual management (or leadership – separate debate please) headaches the world over. Derived from the Latin ‘to move’, you’ve got it (haven’t you?) - motivation.

Your level of motivation at work is an interplay between extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Intrinsic being those that are driven from within; a sense of purpose, curiosity, fun, self-expression and love. You carry this with you wherever you go, and if recruiters have the right focus, they’ll know how to look for intrinsic drive. Extrinsic motivation relates to tangible and intangible outside rewards and incentives and is shaped by the culture of your employer organisation.

Central to this is a clear culture of care. If your customer’s experience comes at the top of your priority list, this will inform the way that your leaders lead and provide those extrinsic motivating factors. A good leader notices, applauds and amplifies attitudes and acts of service – however seemingly small or habitual.

So how will any of this help to elevate your service experiences? My reflections above are not intended as a ‘how to’ of great service (that’s for the book), more of a reminder that our customers’ experiences are a cumulation of opportunities; moments won or lost in the blink (or squint) of an eye. Rather than leave things to chance, find ways to ensure that those opportunities are noticed, acted on, and rewarded. Because without moments such as Caesar’s blind intervention, well surely it’s curtains for us all (sorry, couldn’t resist). Hail Caesar and long live great service!



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