Going away on holiday is an ideal time to experience service from traditional service providers: airlines, hotels, restaurants and retail operators. As a member of the Uplifting Service team, I recently traveled overseas on vacation, and was eager to experience the the service cultures and individual service providers I encountered. I thought it would be fun “field work” (much to the dismay of my family) and an opportunity to get fresh insights on service in new places.
What came of my experience, however, was much different than a collection of evaluations about service and service providers. Our airline, hotel, restaurant and retail experiences ranged from average to exceptional on any service scorecard. But my initial ideas about “field work” went out the window in exchange for a deeper awareness and appreciation for the innate sense of service so many people carry within.
We were four tourists from another country making our way on unfamiliar ground. There was the taxi driver who dropped us where we asked then picked us up again 5 minutes later at no charge to get us a mile further down the road when he saw we were in the wrong location. There was the man who crossed the street just to show me a free place to park only a block away, saving us an expensive parking fee. He even walked ahead to save a spot. There was the bike rider who stopped to help four lost souls surveying a map. He worked at the local tourist information center but took time out of his day off to guide us in a town he clearly felt pride in. And the owner of a house we rented who brought fresh breakfast the morning after our late night arrival, knowing we had not been able to shop for food the night before.
I also observed an older woman hugging the attendant at the airline counter after he helped her with a complicated change in travel arrangements. And two young men helping an older woman up off the airport floor after she had fallen, laden with bags, unable to move.
These were just a few of the small but meaningful gestures of service – all from strangers in a critical moment, taking action to help someone else. Clear evidence that so many of us carry a natural instinct – even a desire – to serve.
What occurs to me is that service initiatives that attempt to “train”, “script” or “program” employees to serve customers in a predictable and prefabricated way miss the opportunity to awaken and encourage our natural desires. Rather than create rigid structures and management controls that constrict workers, we need to get out of the way so our people can channel the human instinct to care for customers, and for each other. Let’s educate people to understand how uplifting service impacts the business and build a common language to articulate opportunities and issues. But let each person add their own human touch and find unique ways to delight colleagues and clients. Process and systems should allow for our trusted people to capture the critical moments that count for those we serve.