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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It’s all about H2H – Part 2

In my last post, I suggested that the issue of real service interactions might be either misunderstood or underappreciated by some working in the services industry.

It’s time to discuss how authentic service interactions are misunderstood.

Recently, I had an wonderful dinner at a good restaurant here in Halifax. The food was great, the ambience quite nice. The server was pleasant enough and competent. Order taken, food served, bill presented. However, I couldn’t helped being underwhelmed. It took me a few minutes to realize what it was. The ‘patter’.

The server was using patter, her own version of a standardized script used at each table to welcome us, take an order and perform the functions that make up the interaction.

I expect this at quick service restaurants, have even trained it and performed it myself. But in the context of a fine dining restaurant, I was surprised. The problem was that I didn’t believe my server in the basic questions.

“Was everything ok with my meal?" Did she really want to know if I was enjoying it or just if it met expectations?

“Did we save enough room for dessert?” Who’s ‘we’ and why are you not interested in my desire over my space availability?

Granted, service professionals put up fronts, often referred to as emotional labour in service research. This type of acting helps to shield the person, allowing them to present emotions that they might not necessarily feel, emotions that are more appropriate to the context. For example, when a customer asks their service person “How are you today?”, the common response is “I’m great, thank you!”, whether or not this is truly the case. We script generic responses, the call & answer, to minimize the emotional stress required when we interact with so many customers.

Here is the point of my post. Too many service professionals misunderstand real interactions; they are overly conditioned to act or perform a certain way. Performance trumps authenticity.

It’s that small bit of connection when asked ‘How are you tonight?” that puts greater emphasis on ‘you’ and not ‘how’. Real human interaction requires an investment, a commitment and, yes, even a risk of getting more than you bargain for.

In a consumer world where the degrees of differentiation between products are so very slight, it will be those who can make real connections with other humans that will stand out. Gary Vaynerchuk is calling it the Thank You Economy. I’ll just refer to it as authentic H2H experiences.

Just my two cents… WCM

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