Do you enjoy the self check out queues at supermarkets? (courtesy of MUO)
What is fabulous service? How do you define a “delightful experience”?
To many, an exceptional encounter is a heroic one, epitomised by a smiling human being who jumps through flaming hoops to provide memorable encounters.
The guy who took a taxi all the way to the airport to return your lost wallet just before your flight.
The chef at the restaurant who baked you a beautiful birthday cake on the day of your birth.
The sales assistant who allowed you to try over a dozen outfits before selecting one, without so much as a grimace on her bright beaming face.
Traditionally, service and hospitality went together.
This was especially so in Asia, where we’re known for our heady mix of exotic oriental smiles, warm personality and serving hands.
Iconic gestures like the Thai “wai” or Indian “namaste” (palms pressed together in prayerful fashion) and Japanese bow stick in our heads.
While many consider service to be an intimate one-to-one human interaction, the sordid truth is that such expectations are becoming harder to achieve.
With rising manpower costs, tight labour markets, and the growing aspirations of younger workers, the days of being waited on hand to mouth may soon be over.
This would be especially so in labour intensive industries like F&B, hotels, and retail.
What then should your solution be? Consider introducing the concept of “No Service“.
Now wait a minute. I’m not advocating your diners to cook their own meals from scratch, or to expect your passengers to drive their own buses.
Rather, I’m proposing how your customer facing processes and workflows can be optimised such that there is a minimal need for human intervention.
Some of the principles involved are as follows:
Leverage on technology on site to transmit the requests of your customers to fulfillment.
This can be anything from taking orders at a restaurant to transmitting information from retail customers to upstream suppliers. Handheld tablets and touchscreens on tables are common ways to do so in F&B outlets.
Provide an attractive incentive for guests/customers to pre-order before arrival so as to minimise transaction times. For example, shops can offer a 10% discount for customers who pre-order online and simply pick up and go at the outlet.
Encouraging customers to opt for default choices as the most popular/beneficial option. This should be done as intelligently as possible based on one’s knowledge of customer demographics, behavioural patterns and transactional history.
Design customer spaces to optimise natural behaviours and movements. This should be done to move them from point A to point B in an intuitive fashion requiring minimal human intervention.
Global retailer Ikea is obviously a master at doing so.
Invest in customer intelligence software and CRM systems to intelligently guess what customers may be interested in. While not every company can be as sophisticated as Amazon in mining customer data for insights, there are various tiers that companies can explore.
Develop apps and software that tap on the immense power of the smartphone.
Technology is already widely available to customers who can use their mobiles for payment and pre-orders. With GPS and location-sensing technology, retailers and service providers can also pinpoint where their customers are with greater accuracy. A smartphone can also be used for all kinds of access – from airplanes to hotels.
Modify processes to make it a game for customers to “self-serve”.
This can be anything from rolling their own popiahs (spring rolls), checking out at supermarkets, to perhaps even (gasp) doing their own dishes. An element of gamification and playfulness could be deployed here.
Naturally, this notion of no service or self service isn’t an easy one to adopt.
Beyond incentives designed to shift customer behaviours, the right infrastructure – technology, physical spaces, systems, processes, and training – needs to be in place. You also need leadership to set the example, and build the right culture in the organisation.
“No service” is further complicated by the fact that people may actually crave human contact as they become increasingly disillusioned with technology.
Having said that, you may not be in a position to choose as the labour crunch and the career expectations of youth around the world march in opposite directions.
If we cannot have our cake and eat it, the solution may lie in learning how to bake it – especially if we can’t find somebody to do it for us.
Do you agree that “no service” could be the best service? How else can we resolve the manpower dilemma?