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《Impeccable Customer Service: Theory, Fiction or Reality?》__Daniel Ho(67)

Impeccable Customer Service: Theory, Fiction or Reality?

For more than two decades, customer service has been the slogan or motto embraced by numerous organizations world-wide, especially in North America.  Some profit-making companies have perceived that better customer service could give them the competitive edge over their rivals and be the key to customer retention.  Certain government agencies and non-profit organizations envision that outstanding customer service may enhance their public image or bestow more credibility on them, or help them to justify their existence.  On the other hand, some corporate leaders or senior executives, perhaps, genuinely believe in the value of good customer service and hence take action for its implementation.  Whereas for some other corporate decision-makers, they seem to only pay lip service to customer service.

Academic institutions have been offering courses (or at least as a component of some course curricula) on customer service.  Elaborate or rather complex theories on customer service have been put forth and taught.  Unfortunately, for many instructors and so-called advocates of customer service, they seem to endorse customer service only intellectually.  One may wonder how many of them have actually rolled up their sleeves to practise customer service in the front line?  How could instructors, so-called experts in customer service, and senior executives of organizations inspire others to buy in excellent customer service when they themselves, as a rule or routinely, do not bother to return telephone calls in response to voice mail messages and reply to e-mails received?

Our latest travel to Europe and experience of taking a river cruise in Europe had exposed me and my wife to some impressive customer service endeavors.  We stayed for several days in Prague for sight-seeing.  Based on a friend’s suggestion and some favorable feedback and comments posted on a rather reputable travel advice website, we selected a small hotel for stay at Prague. 

Prague is the capital and also the largest city of the Czech Republic.  The Czech Republic is in the process of establishing herself financially subsequent to cutting past ties with Communism and of adapting to the realities of democracy and competitive market economy.  Some nations of Eastern Europe, including Czech Republic, had attained exquisite culture of enjoying meticulous service and fine foods or cuisine for many centuries prior to becoming a Soviet Union-controlled communist state.  It is amazing that such traditional culture had managed to survive during several decades of communist rule and has been able to pass on to the current generation.  Adherence to such fine culture is instrumental or vital for these nations to attract world tourists.  There are many hotels, large and small, in Prague.  So the competition among the hotels there is very keen.  The daily rate of the boutique hotel we stayed in Prague may not be the least inexpensive.  However, this hotel has more than survived on the strength of its outstanding customer service.

Before our arrival at Prague, were promised by the hotel staff that they would pick us up at the international airport at Prague.  Indeed, the driver from the hotel showed up on time.  He still made the trip even though we were the only people going to the hotel.  The care ride to the hotel took about 45 minutes but it was complimentary.  The colloquial English ability of the driver might not be considered as very proficient, but it was obvious that he had spent great efforts to learn to speak English and conscientiously endeavored to communicate to us along the way. 

As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we were pleasantly overwhelmed by the warm and eager-to-serve attitude of the hotel staff.  It was in the morning.  They immediately served us breakfast which was at no charge.  Then the receptionist spent more than half an hour to brief us on the neighborhood, the geographical breakdown of the city, and tourist points and recommend restaurants to us.  When we deplaned at the airport at Prague, one of our two pieces of baggage did not appear.  It seemed that it was not correctly or not timely transferred to our relay flight at the hub airport we stopped over.  When we mentioned our dilemma of loss of luggage to the hotel receptionist, she, without any hesitation, offered to phone the airline staff at the Prague airport, in their own luggage, to follow this up for us.  Lo and behold!  When we returned to our hotel room in the evening, the missing piece of luggage was there.  This was at least partly due to the assistance by the hotel staff. 

The hotel receptionist on duty was more than happy to make reservations for the guests at any restaurant in the city.  During our first day, when we went out for dinner, the hotel owner personally offered to walk us to the restaurant, even though the walk took about 30 minutes for one way.  We were new to Prague and still figuring out to find our way.  How could we not take his kind offer?

Whenever we were in the hotel lobby, we noticed that whenever the elevator door opened and guests emerged with their luggage to depart, the hotel owner immediately ran to help them to carry their baggage.  Whenever we left the hotel for sight-seeing, the hotel staff supplied us with bottled waters, without cost of course.

At the end of our three days of stay, we were thoroughly satisfied with the level of service by the hotel staff, which to us was beyond their call of duty, at least by North American perception or standard.  It did not take a genius or an expert business consultant to realize that the owner of the hotel himself has set the tone and has become a model for his employees to follow.  However, customer service much exceeding our expectations did not end with our departure of this hotel.

  The next segment of our European trip was to take a river cruise on the River Danube.  The hotel driver gave us a car ride to a large hotel in town, where we would board a coach bus to take us to the river cruise ship.  At the meeting place outside the main entrance of the large hotel, we were warmly greeted by the representatives and staff of the cruise ship company.  They conscientiously informed us of what would happen next.  Even the vice-president of the cruise company, who was also a co-owner, was there to welcome us and shake hand with us.

When we arrived at the pier, the captain and the officers of the river cruise ship were standing at the gangway to greet and welcome us.  During the cruise, the service crew were not only friendly and courteous.  They also knew the name of every guest on board and greeted them by their name.  The staff took the time and efforts to chat with us whenever there was an appropriate opportunity.  Every time when we departed and re-entered the ship at each place of call, the captain was at the gangway to greet us.  When we disembarked the ship at the final destination, it was raining and cold.  The cruise director of the ship personally helped us to carry a piece of rather heavy luggage from the ship to the taxi stand near the pier.

A few days after returning home, we received a postcard in the mail from the cruise director of the ship.  The message, which fully filled the postcard, was to thank us for our patronage and to wish to see us again soon.  The message had been personally handwritten in ink by the cruise director.  It must have been a very time-consuming and labor-intensive endeavor on his part to handwrite probably at least 80 postcards.

One main reason we chose this river cruise line was that this company was recommended for its excellence of service.  To us, the staff of this ship certainly had lived up to the billing.

It seems that I have been used to receiving superficial and mediocre (or even lower) level of customer service in North America.  Perhaps, this may not be unexpected, considering that many executives of corporations, owners, bosses and managers treat their staff or subordinates without respect, dignity, decency, integrity, honesty.  How could such people in positions of power and authority create a sustainable culture of excellent customer service or inspire their subordinates to buy in good customer service?  I might have adjusted my mindset psychologically that this kind of nominal customer service is the norm in Canada.  My experience of encountering gratifying and exceptional customer service during my latest European trip was certainly a very pleasant surprise.  Anyway, I am looking forward to another pleasant surprise and exception.

Near and Along River Danube

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