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Jan 092014
Igniting customer service with a spark
One morning on the way home after my regular walk at the park, I stopped as I regularly do, at the nearest branch of a supermarket chain, endorsed by a ‘celebrity’ of cricketing fame and his wife . The store had just opened its doors for the day and unsurprisingly there were more employees running around doing this and that, than customers. One of the items on the list given to me by my wife was for the purchase of a pack of cotton ear buds.

After a few minutes of searching, which included my standing to attention during the brief period the national anthem was played over the shop speaker system, I approached an employee for help.  At this point, I waited with anticipation to see how this ‘moment of truth in customer service’ will be played out by this employee. Will his response lead to more frustration?  Will it be a ‘follow-me- lets- look- for- it’ kinda treasure hunt, leading to both of us getting frustrated? Or will it move in the right direction to a feeling of appreciation or best of all – will it result in leaving me truly impressed?  

The ‘moment of truth’ in customer service
An article with the abovementioned title, authored by Marc Beaujean, Jonathan Davidson, and Stacey

Madge – all employees of McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, pinpoints with  great accuracy where most  service-related and hospitality businesses miss out, when it states “What’s regularly missing, in our experience, is the spark between the customer and frontline staff members—the spark that helps transform wary or skeptical people into strong and committed brand followers.

That spark and the emotionally-driven behavior that creates it, explain how great customer service companies earn trust and loyalty during “moments of truth”: those few interactions; (for instance, a lost credit card, a canceled flight, a damaged piece of clothing, or investment advice), when customers invest a high amount of emotional energy in the outcome.

Superb handling of these moments requires an instinctive frontline response that puts the customer’s emotional needs ahead of the company’s and the employee’s agendas”. Let’s shift back to how the supermarket employee responded in my case. Sweeping his right hand in a vaguely arc-like direction, he asked me to go to my left towards the second aisle from the last and that I should find it somewhere there! He then quickly vanished, leaving me to continue the search I had already been on. There are moments when the long-term relationship between a business and its customers can change significantly—for better or for worse. In this instance the relationship simply disintegrated!  The action of this employee demonstrated that my needs as a customer was low down on his daily ‘to do’ list. Sadly, this is the scenario, most customers have come to frustratingly expect. There is then the other slightly better customer service encounter where the employee will mumble ‘I’m pretty sure it is over there’, whilst beckoning you to follow him/her. Most of us have been in the position of following a shop employee up and down aisles we’ve already searched, until ultimately spotting the item or abandoning the search in exasperation. Very seldom, although it does occasionally occur between one Poya day and the next, will an employee say ‘The ear buds are in the personal care section, let me show you’ and the employee then walks you directly to the item. When that happens I feel appreciated as a customer.

What I really want to see though, is a response that brings a spark to my shopping experience. It is here that I dream the employee asking me if I had more shopping to do, to which I would reply I did, and be then told, “You go ahead and keep shopping and I’ll find it and bring it to you”. Wow… now that does more to preventing me shifting my loyalty to the competition than all the special offers and seemingly benevolent celebrity endorsements. Whilst on the subject of supermarket service, tell me if this hasn’t happened to you? It happened to me recently at the supermarket that screams ‘on the way home’. You are standing at the end of the line with around 5-6 customers ahead of you.

Having endured a long wait until the woman in front of you has paid for her 40 odd items, and, just as you reach the front of the line, with no other customer standing behind you, it happens. It’s time for the cashier’s break? So she stands there, with her back to you, fiddling aimlessly with the cash register, waiting for her relief, doesn’t make eye contact with you, doesn’t acknowledge you. Can she not see me? How hard is it to just let me know it will be a moment? Instead, her relief shows up (who doesn’t acknowledge me either). They exchange a little gossip about how one of them couldn’t get Saturday off and how hot the weekend is supposed to be as they trade places. Finally, one of them looks at me and simply says “Ayubowan” as I stand motionless in disbelief!       

Silver spoon or garden spade?
Tiffany & Company (known colloquially as Tiffany or Tiffany’s), founded in New York City in 1837, is a multinational luxury jewelry and specialty retailer operating in 22 countries. Tiffany is renowned for its luxury goods and is known for its diamond jewelry. Tiffany markets itself as an ‘arbiter of taste and style’. Unlike, many luxury hotels that wax eloquently on similar lines and yet fall woefully short when the time comes to walk the talk, Tiffany’s steadfastly deliver on their promise. Here’s one example of how Tiffany not only do it right every time…but also do it right at the right time! Steve Curtin was in New York for a business trip, a week before his 10th wedding anniversary. He stopped by at Tiffany’s flagship store to look at some anniversary rings.

Salesman Duncan showed Steve an array of magnificent rings whilst explaining the nuances of colour, cut, clarity, and carat weight of each. But there was one particular ring (costing 25 percent more than the others), that Steve kept going back to look. Duncan too had noticed this. After about 30 minutes of inspecting many rings, Steve informed Duncan that he wouldn’t be buying the ring that day and mentioned that he had an appointment in two days, with the Sales rep at Tiffany’s branch in Denver city and that he wished to see what they had for sale, before making a choice. When he arrived two days later at Tiffany’s in Denver, Saleswoman Cynthia proceeded to show Steve a wide selection of anniversary rings she had selected based upon Steve’s criteria. After introducing several rings, accompanied by a meticulous explanation of each ring’s characteristics, she produced the final ring, saying “Now this is the ring that you were especially taken by when Duncan was showing you rings at our New York store on Tuesday.” Steve was absolutely floored! Sensing his astonishment, Cynthia smiled and explained that she had received a call from Duncan shortly after Steve had left the NY store and that together, they had made arrangements for the ring to be shipped overnight from New York to the Denver location of Tiffany & Co. – in time for Steve’s appointment.

My friend Marcus and his wife from Germany visited Sri Lanka in early December. Having spent a couple  of days after arrival, at a Colombo 5 star city hotel, they checked into a 4 star hotel in Kandy for a few days, before returning to Colombo for another two days, (2nd visit) at the city same hotel. Marcus and the missus enjoyed the final week of their stay at a 4 star beach resort down South. The hotels Marcus used all belonged to a home grown hotel brand and prior to his arrival; he booked his accommodation requirements through the central reservations office of that hotel group. His transportation during his trip, by chauffeur driven car, was also arranged thru the travel section of this hospitality-related organisation.

During the four occasions he checked into the three hotels operated under the umbrella of the same hotel group, Marcus was asked to fill-in the hotel registration card each time i.e. four times! Hotel registration requires the guest to provide information such as Title, Surname, other Names, address, contact details, gender, date of birth, passport number and date of expiry, mode of payment and a few more details that includes the spouse’s name,(where applicable) etc. Filling in a registration card is sometimes tedious, especially after a long and tiring journey and it can leave a guest awesomely surprised, when a fully pre-registered card is thrust towards him or her with a “Just sign in, and we will have you immediately shown to your room”.

In this age of technology, where one can swiftly transmit information electronically, it begs the question, why the personal details Marcus provided when filling the registration card upon the first checking-in, could not be ‘shared’ with the other two sister hotels? After all, someone within that organisation did know his entire itinerary. Had these hotels, a ‘someone who cared’, (like a Duncan or a Cynthia of Tiffany’s, who working in unison ‘shipped’ an expensive ring from New York to Denver within 48 hours), faxing a copy of Marcus’s Registration card to the other hotels, would have been a walk-in-the-park. Marcus’s birthday fell on a day during their 2nd stay at the Colombo hotel.

Whilst dining that very day at one of the hotel’s specialty restaurant, I casually asked him whether he received a cake or anything for that matter, from the hotel in recognition of the occasion. To which he replied “No”. When I mentioned this to the steward who was serving us, responded rather sheepishly, “I’m sorry but the management has now decided to do away with that practice’. Wonder why such hotels then bother to collect guests’ date of birth at registration? So, what do the above two experiences tell us? It tells us that Steve received amazing customer service from Tiffany’s – literally with the 21st century silver spoon, whilst Marcus got his from a garden spade!

Post office service
Despite, Sri Lanka Post’s lofty vision statement ‘to become the most distinctive Institution in  Asia  providing a  productive and quality Postal service based on the Modern Technology as to Customer delight’, we all know that this is a long slow trek in the making – if ever! The postal service may not be celebrated for speed, but it does eventually deliver mail and even then, in a very ordinary manner. Inexplicably, most service-related businesses appear to follow it as a role model. Service today consists of four levels: basic, expected, desired and WOW.

‘Basic’ service can be found at the post office whereas ‘expected’ service can be anticipated at most fast food restaurants and many businesses, whilst ‘desired’ services is demanded from any hotel or restaurant that claims to be good or better. According to a new survey by Nielsen, conducted in 58 countries to evaluate consumer views on loyalty levels across 16 categories the global loyalty level for the food and beverage category was the lowest.

It could signal that those hotels or restaurants operating within the bandwidth of basic, expected or desired service levels to be vulnerable to guests switching loyalty when offered a better price. Only those who offer a WOW service i.e. by creating a unique guest experience that exceeds all expectations will stand out in the crowded marketplace to capture, retain and ensure repeat business. In the words of Sofitel CEO Robert Gaymer-Jones, “Be as creative as possible. Modern hotel guests are, and they will align themselves to any companies and brands which they believe are as creative themselves. If you’re offering something that is attractive to them, then that will seduce the guest to come and stay with you”.

(Shafeek Wahab has an extensive background in Hospitality Management spanning over 30 years. He has held key managerial responsibilities in internationally renowned hotel chains, both locally and abroad, including his last held position as Head of Branding for a leading Hotel Group in Sri Lanka. Now focusing on corporate education, training, consulting and coaching he can be contacted on shafeekwahab@in2ition.biz. Website: www.in2ition.biz)

Dec 062013
Why ‘I’ is important in successful entrepreneurial matrix

Busy lives often means tight careers and even tighter personal spaces. It’s a tough battle to keep everything on the burners all at once but that’s the standard formula for today’s busy woman – whether she is powering a rewarding career or is an entrepreneur who must put in an insane amount of hours per day.

Still, children must be taken care of, home chores done and family held together through it all. When all is said and done, the one last on the list is the woman of the house.

Recommended ‘me time’
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is perfectly alright to consider yourself important too. If you are not up mentally, physically and spiritually to meet the challenges of life, then chances are that no one around you, whether family or colleagues will be, either.  Over-worked, depressed and demotivated women (or men) are likely to take wrong decisions, break easily and allow themselves to spiral downward in face of adversity. There is no better individual to be taken care of once in a while than you yourself. But for most women, that’s the hardest thing to do.

Experts recommend that you spend some time on yourself everyday – they call it the ‘me time’ to recharge, regenerate and recover from the daily hum- drum of life. The me time can be spent in prayer or meditation, reading, sitting down, being pampered in a salon or simply sitting down by yourself with a good cup of tea.
The idea is to unwind and give your systems a chance to clear the clutter and calm down. Some companies and organisations encourage the concept of me time where top executives actually get some time off during the week to engage in me time.

Finding the time to spend doing nothing is also considered vital in keeping the work sanity balance. A Saturday afternoon can be set aside for the doing nothing session. Ideally, this portion of time must be totally unplanned and kept for spontaneous activity such as watching a movie, going shopping or just hanging around.

Dying art of conversation
Although we can and often do get into a work mode by default, it is important to keep this part of the week to do nothing on purpose. It can be rewarding once you fit it into a busy week and before long, you begin to enjoy the stress-free half a day that really enables you recuperate from an insanely busy week.

Spending time talking is also a key therapeutic element in achieving the successful work-life matrix. Whether it is the kids, ageing parents, the spouse or colleagues, spending some amount of time connecting is important, especially in today’s highly entertaining environment of social media, smartphones and the Internet. With all those communicative devices, we increasingly find ourselves checking our smartphones while waiting for the bus or our turn at the doctor’s or the supermarket counter.
We no longer make polite small talk that used to turn strangers into friends and acquaintances into colleagues – we can easily be content with our speakers connected to our smartphone playing You Tube videos or music or check Facebook status.

Making conversation is a dying art – I remember reading that following the power outage caused by the infamous storm in New York, a mother discovered that her children actually could not make conversation with other children of the same age when they had nothing to do when their electronic gaming devices and smartphones went out and could not be charged.

In fact, we would do well to realize and discover that those who could make conversation an interesting choice are likely to make new social and business connections easily than others.

Keeping ourselves relevant
Do we spend time recharging, researching and updating ourselves in our chosen field of work? This is an important area – for an example, doctors are expected to update themselves regularly on status of research findings on various relevant illnesses and other heaps of information that flows steadily from on-going research projects.

For professionals and others, updating today is no longer a tedious task given the plethora of information available online at the click of a button. But it is vital that we choose to find the time to update ourselves regularly. Otherwise, we can become like software that is not updated – we lose track of the new developments, the new trends and innovations and thereby, lose the edge in keeping ourselves relevant.  We should find the time to challenge ourselves by never giving up on thinking new ideas and concepts. There is something fundamentally powerful about innovative ideas whose time has come. If not for brilliant ideas, half of the most successful products and services would not have been created

(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at nayominiweerasooriya@gmail.com)

Jul 022013
Ranaviru Real Stars Perform in New York

Leading News from Sri Lanka::

* Ranaviru Real Stars Perform in New York
Tue, Jul 2, 2013, 04:13 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

July 02, New York: The Ranaviru Real Stars performed in New York, June 30th at the grand finale of their US tour. The tri-state diaspora, who poured in hundreds to the PS 58 auditorium in Staten Island, were enthralled by the winners of Sri Lanka’s most popular Reality TV singing competition in live concert for over 3 hours. It was easily the finest Sri Lankan musical event in years, but also one that left the audience with a deep sense of patriotism, love, and duty towards the veterans.

The Real Stars, who are members of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, perform to benefit the Mihindu Seth Madura, a healing home for gravely disabled war heroes. Lt. Col. VP Kariyawasam, the director of the Seth Medura and the manager of the troupe gave a brief introduction of their mission: The facility provides lifelong care for veterans whose injuries are too grave to be cared for by their families. Currently, there are over 50 disabled soldiers treated at Mihindu Seth Madura. A short documentary brought tears to the eyes of the audience. Ambassador Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva, in a heart-rending tribute to the veterans of the civil war, reminded the audience that many have sacrificed the ability to hear and see performances like those by the Real Stars.

The Real Stars began their performance with the rendition of a series of patriotic songs attired in their official uniforms which was the perfect accompaniment for the speeches and the documentary. The second part of their performance was pure artistry; a brilliantly delivered collection of classical Sri Lankan melodies together with finely choreographed dancing treated the audience to a once in a lifetime experience.

Commodore P.J.F. Peiris of the Sri Lanka Navy and Mr. Chaminda Gunarathne of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation served as the masters of ceremonies.

According to Mr. Dillan Ariyawansa, the chairman of the Ranaviru Handa � New York organizing committee, the tri-state diaspora is deeply grateful to the Ranaviru Real Stars. Not only was the community treated to wonderful performance, it also gave them the opportunity to give back to the veterans: all proceeds from the concert will go to the Mihindu Seth Medura.

The Ranaviru Real Stars tour in the US was jointly organized by Ranaviru Foundation USA, Sri Lanka Embassy and the Sri Lanka Mission in New York.

(Photos by Sagara Lakmal De Mel)

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