Traveling through Asia has taught us many things and sparked many thought-processes in us. Most of our paradigm shifts resulted from our interaction with other people. One of those insights was the way in which we were treated by local people when we payed them for a service. On the basis of what we have experienced in the past months, and especially in Vietnam, I offer you here and the following blog post some new ways to think about how we treat others and get treated by them.
Some of the services which we asked for that were relatively expensive compared to local price levels (e.g. food, massages) were given to us in a “rich Westerners who have to be pleased” sort of attitude. On the other hand, the cheapest services that we made use of (e.g. taxi, food, drinks) were often the best ones. Think about it: how likely is it that you will get a bad service when buying a bottle of water and a bag of chips at the kiosk? Interestingly, the trouble comes when larger sums are at stake – which means that the service itself has been neglected in favour of the money.
The meaning of the word “service” can easily be derived from the word itself: delivering a service to someone means to serve someone. This, in turn, refers to helping someone achieve a goal (regardless of compensation).
Let’s assume you feel hungry. Hence, your goal is to get full in order to fuel your body. Let’s also assume that you’re not at home. Your choices are twofold: Either you get back home (which will take up some time in most cases) and you invest some more time in preparing your meal (for which you might have to buy ingredients first). Or you choose to go to a restaurant. While the first scenario is self-explanatory, the second is not. This can be explained by the simple fact that other human beings are involved in your attempt to fill your stomach, whereas cooking by yourself requires nothing but your own skills. This is why I will now turn to discuss the latter scenario where your outcome depends on other people and – as we shall see later – their outcome.
If you decide that you will have other people prepare a meal for you, then service starts to play an important role, at least if you’re interested in leaving the restaurant full and with a good feeling inside your belly. Hence, the people working in the restaurant deliver a service to you – they serve you – by dealing with all necessities that you would have had to go through, if you had chosen the first (cook at home) instead of the second option (eat at a restaurant).
As soon as you enter a restaurant, two “settings” clash. The first one is your expectation about the food and how you should be treated as a customer. All of this is based on a number of other factors, such as your mood, previous experiences in the same or other restaurants, your cultural programming etc. The second setting we need to consider is the restaurant’s employees’ skill and will to serve you. This depends on their mood, their level of training, their level of motivation etc.
The very fact that these two settings exist makes clear that you as a customer cannot expect a kingly service – or, for that matter, any service – without recognizing the service provider as the service provider. By this is I mean that even the most expensive service is given to you by a human being. That is, status and nature of the serving person are two very different things: while every service relationship automatically sets you higher than the person you ask or pay to do something for you (vertical relationship), the human relationship always remains horizontal. In short, service always happens between humans, not between machines.
I will presuppose two conditions here that I regard as critical when we want to determine what makes a good and satisfying service that you want to enjoy again in the future. The first condition is that you ask for a service voluntarily. The point is that if I lock you up in prison, and serve you the best food you’ve ever had, you may still not appreciate this service because you would have not chosen to take in your meal (and be it the best in the world) in a prison cell in the first place. The second presupposition is that the service providers love providing their services. If a taxi driver dislikes being a taxi driver, chances are that the quality of your ride will be lower or your expenses will be higher by default than if you were sitting in the cab of a passionate taxi driver who can’t wait to dedicate his knowledge and time to your purpose.
We can summarize the two conditions like this: both parties, customer and service provider, must be truly committed to their part. The customer must have the desire to take up a service, and the service provider must have the desire to serve his or her customers for the sake of the service.
I will continue next time with a detailed discussion of what makes a good service.
P.S.: Check out our route map to see where we are!