26 August 2018, Kathmandu
The year was 2012. I was coming down the lobby of a Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, part of an international chain of 5 star hotels. The music was sweet and melodious, and the beautiful smell indicating class and quality of the hotel.
As I came down the lobby, I kept on bumping into a gentleman or a lady constantly bombarding me with smiling and enthusiastic “good morning” every moment at every step till I reached the breakfast grounds.
My mood which was a little down immediately lighted up and I said “wow, what a service, they simply make me smile and wonder just how they performed it all so good every day?”
Now, fast forward six years to 2018. Just recently, I landed up at a famous supermarket in Kathmandu, part of a chain operating for pretty long time. I had gone there to save myself from the rain.
I decided to go to the shoes section and just window shop. My eyes just popped at a pair of brown soft leather shoes and wondered if they got it in black. I asked one of the attendants from a group of at least 15 shop attendants gossiping there: “Do you have that pair of brown shoes in black?” Her high and dry answer was: “We just keep all our shoes on display. No there are no black ones; just go”.
When you get this kind of rude and cold kind of reply without an iota of enthusiasm to go one step further for your customer, what will you do next? Yes I did the same. I swore to never return there for another stint of even accidental shopping.
The sales-girl could have made a sale, as it was raining outside and my eyes were already shining for the brown pair. A little nudge, a little salesmanship, and a bit of courteous behavior, and I would have forked out money, and bought the pair of shoes even in brown.
The point I want to make is: service excellence.
The idea and importance of service excellence is yet to catch up in true sense in Nepal. In fact, the situation is so bad that it would not be an exaggeration to state that the country is infested with an epidemic of poor service delivery. Are there any solutions really?
I have been an observer of service delivery system in Nepal for more than 15 years. I have seen all kinds of services being provided and the also the expansion of the sector in all areas. Nepal’s business sector flourishes in service.
Various kinds of services are being delivered which generate economic activities. Some examples could be the services given in restaurants, in shopping marts, in shopping malls, in food and merchandise delivery, service delivery in housing apartments, in movie halls and in hotels. Some additional examples that can be cited are after sales services given in vehicles such as cars, two wheelers, and four wheelers and for electronic equipments etc. We can go on and on and add service delivery in many more sectors.
Expansion of service sector is certainly a good sign for the expansion of our economy. However, while service delivery is a positive thing for every stakeholder, I don’t have a very positive view on the state of service sector in Nepal in terms of delivery.
The reasons for my present pessimism are simple and obvious. The delivery of services keeps on deteriorating in all sectors across the board with time, which could happen after a mere one year of service or after a much longer time. Time for deterioration may vary but deterioration is fact.
You can notice the deterioration very well in a lot of old businesses of Nepal such as automobiles after sales services, old and previously top ranked restaurants, shopping centers and marts and others. When the business is new there just seems a renewed enthusiasm and focus on excellent service delivery. But as the business gets older most businesses lose track.
Most staff that have been working in services sector show a certain behavior of rudeness and negligence which works negatively. The first casualty is the brand image. Poor service or deterioration, including rudeness and aloofness, gives a wrong impression upon customers regarding the entire brand image of the company as well as its products and services so people simply stop taking services from the organization.
As the proverb goes, it’s easier said than done. It is easier to learn the principles of service delivery when you start fresh and when the leadership is also focused on service effectiveness during the starting phases. But with the passage of time, the follow up to these learned activities is not done properly. The leadership and staff change. The remaining staffs take it easy with no proper response to address these issues from the top management.
The worst kinds of organizations are those which never keep track of these activities in an organization and the service delivery starts to worsen resulting in low customer retention and finally the business collapses.
But is not there any silver lining in dark clouds? Are not there any solutions?
There certainly are plenty of silver linings. The solutions are in plain sight and may sound rather really very easy, though not implemented.
We can find a select group of effective organizations in the country whose service delivery quality has not degraded even after being in business for a pretty long time. Some of such organizations can be benchmarked and can be found in sectors such as automobiles, hotels and entertainment industry.
Two main reasons can be cited as to why such organizations continue to remain effective considering the global perspectives on of service management. The first is that they focus on continual training and development of staff members responsible for service delivery. The second reason is the stability of leadership, which in turn gives a stable strategic planning and implementation direction to the company.
I have worked and observed in automotive industries and in companies where they have an entire training department created and dedicated for the sole purpose of giving effective training on service delivery to all staff members of the organization. The top leaders get involved in ensuring that the quality is maintained in the service delivery. And the leaders in selected few top corporates are unfailingly doing it for decades.
The late management guru Christopher Lovelock used a beautiful term: “service actors”. By service actors he meant the necessary skills needed in service delivery staff members to “act” as competent service delivery personnel, who also possess required techniques to leave lasting good impressions on the clients.
It is sad to see that the top management of most of the companies in Nepal either lack the knowledge of such timeless concepts and ideas of service management or lack the necessary enthusiasm to implement it, even if some of them are aware of them.
What is that key thing which has made global companies dominate local markets in various sectors such as hotels, airlines, FMCG, electronics, and telecom? Well there are so many reasons but one indisputable key factor is the service delivery mechanism.
This is also vouched by the fact most of Nepal’s biggest tax payers are multinational companies, whose one big unbeatable USP (unique selling proposition) is their massively effective focus on service delivery.
In sum, the remedial prescriptions for poor service epidemic in Nepalese businesses are: a. continual top class staff training, and b. unwavering focus on service delivery by a stable top management.
I often compare the warmth of people bombarding me with greetings and smiles in 2012 incident that I narrated at the beginning and mostly horrifying or appalling level of service delivery in Nepal. But the reasons are obvious: lack of staff training and management policy.
The hotel incident I narrated in the beginning was from a hotel belonging to Ritz Carlton, one of the world leaders in quality service delivery.
Despite the epidemic infesting the service delivery system in Nepal, I am confident that we can follow the silver linings in the dark clouds and make a turnaround by staff training and firm management policy. It is not something which we cannot achieve with a little concern for the quality of service delivery.
After all, quality service delivery is for the good of the business itself as also for the clients and surely pays handsome dividends to any business entity.
(Nischaya Subedi is a Consultant Strategic Manager based in Kathmandu.)