Culture and Customer Service

My husband and I have a goal to travel overseas at least once per year.  Last year we had the opportunity to visit Barcelona. The Travel Channel had highlighted Spain as a culinary travel destination, so of course my husband being a big foodie wanted to go.  We were not disappointed.  We ate at Taller de Tapas, La Taverna del Clinic, and Ca l’Isidre.  What we found interesting during our trip was that even the 4-5 star restaurants seemed to take forever in bringing us the check.

At first, we joked that we were probably just inpatient Americans wanting to rush a meal.  We noticed how Catalans take their time to enjoy a cigarette with coffee after dinner.  My husband and I wondered if the waiter or waitress was waiting to see if we would smoke after dinner (we do not smoke).  After enjoying such wonderful dinners in Barcelona we felt awkward labeling the long delay for our check as poor customer service.  Was Barcelona a place not concerned with good customer service?

El compte, si us plau.

After conducting some research, I learned it is customary in Barcelona for diners to initiate the request for the check.  In fact, it is considered rude for the waiter or waitress to bring the check before diners ask for it.

“The customer is always right in Spain….The waiter will not bring the bill until he is asked to bring the bill by one of the diners.”

Source: TripAdvisor, Spain: Guide to Etiquette in Spain.

This was so interesting to me because I felt the opposite was true of my experience in American restaurants.  Hence, my disappointment with the waiter or waitress not promptly bringing our check.  Here in the U.S., waiters or waitresses anticipate when diners want the check and often initiate the conversation.  In Barcelona, the dining party is supposed to initiate the request.

Given my area of work, I think about how businesses are leveraging social technologies to scale customer service.  Learning from my experience in Barcelona, I am now more careful not to assume that good customer service interactions will be defined in other parts of the world the same way we define it in the U.S.

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Connectedness and Customer Service

Earlier this month I took Gallup’s StrengthFinder 2.0 online assessment.  Connectedness emerged as one of my top five strengths.  Connectedness is the ability to see how people, things and ideas are linked to something larger.  Connectedness implies certain responsibilities – if we are all part of a larger picture, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves.

During the same week of learning this strength about myself, I discovered this strength in a total stranger.  She works as a shift supervisor at Starbucks in Austin, Texas (where Dachis Group headquarters is based).  Chances were greater that we would meet in-person during one of my 4pm coffee runs, but we met via Facebook first.

The notification arrived before I even realized my wallet was missing.  I had made a Starbucks run with a colleague earlier that afternoon and in the chaos of sugar, cream and conversation, I left my wallet at the store.  My wallet did not include any identification with a telephone number.  The Starbucks shift supervisor noticing the credit cards and cash (I had just recently visited the ATM), decided to immediately look me up and contact me via Facebook.  When I met her at the counter to retrieve my wallet she explained how she too had recently experienced the nightmare of losing her wallet.  We connected.

I doubt that Starbucks trains employees to service in-store customers this way on Facebook, but it is evident that making a commitment to increase points of connections with customers is a big part of the company’s culture.  Facebook enabled the shift supervisor to contact me when she had no other means than the mailing address on my license.  The shift supervisor could have kept the wallet until I connected the dots about what happened (which I could have, as it is a strength) and returned to the store.  Of course, that would most likely be proceeded by the anxious discovery that the wallet was missing at the moment I needed it and a frantic retracing of steps in my head of where I could I have left it.  The shift supervisor saved me this emotional energy by making the extra effort to search for me on Facebook and send me a message immediately.

So what does this really have to do with customer service?  It has everything to do with me – the customer.  I feel more connected to that particular Starbucks location and safe shopping there.  Although Starbucks coffee is available at the hotel where I typically stay in Austin, I made a mental note of wanting to give the shift supervisor at the other location where I left my wallet my business even if it means walking an extra street block. Someone there cared about me and I will reciprocate the service.

While this story has nothing to do with innovative social CRM strategy, it has everything to do with how a social savvy shift supervisor connected the dots and leveraged Facebook to send a high impact signal to a customer.  Of course, what the shift supervisor did was a no-brainer to her.  While social technology can automate and innovate many processes, I still believe it is the human behind the technology that makes best-in-class customer service. To that end, connectedness is a quality I would recommend Starbucks preserving and nurturing at the front lines.

What are your thoughts? Do you believe connectedness is an important quality for customer service?