In his latest column for IAG, Dr Brian To looks at contrasting approaches to customer service and the benefits of giving customers a unique experience.
By Professor Dr Brian To
DURING the 1980s, we all came to know of the legendary service that was provided by the giant retailer Nordstrom, founded in 1901 by John Nordstrom who believed that success would come only by offering customers the very best service, selection, quality and value.
After going public in 1971, the company was recognized as the largest volume fashion specialty store on the west coast of the US. Nordstrom had earned a reputation for personalized service and creating a unique shopping experience by having grand pianos in their stores – quite often manned by a pianist during peak hours.
Contrast that image to how service has been reconfigured to almost eliminate the quality of service delivery at the food giant McDonald’s, where you may have to approach an order entry terminal to enter your choice before submitting your ticket at the order counter to pay and being directed to another counter to collect your meal – again by self-service pick-up once a screen tells you that your food is ready. This process basically eliminates the opportunity for customers to check their order or for staff to welcome the customer and thank them for visiting.
While some food giants like McDonald’s, which came in at number 436 on the Fortune Global 500 list last year with over US$24 billion in sales revenue, have chosen to use self-service kiosks, others are heading in a different direction.
Haidilao, a Chinese hot pot chain branching into the US, uses a unique and advanced creative customer service model that has led to customers happily waiting more than two hours before securing a table.
Let’s consider that on any particular night, most people just want an affordable meal. In a pleasant environment that doesn’t require you to call your banker to arrange a credit line, the tastefully decorated surrounds are complemented by a superior service quality you wouldn’t even expect at a Michelin restaurant. There is no evidence of pretentiousness or wait staff imposing invasive guilt if you don’t give a 35% tip. Rather, Haidilao provides authentic, non-intrusive service that feels more like you are eating in your grandmother’s kitchen on a Sunday evening.
Founded 23 years ago, the company has now become the dominant hot pot chain in the country with sales revenue of about US$500 million.
With a global focus on expanding in the US, Singapore and Korea and employing over 15,000 staff, Haidilao has not only mastered but defined “queuing theory” with free manicures, board games, complementary snacks, massages, TV and shoe polishing services available while you wait. All have become hallmarks of the Haidilao customer experience.
When seated, guests will receive eyeglass bags and tissues to ensure cleanliness throughout the dining experience and even hair bands for those who wish to tie their hair back. Special aprons and hand towels are provided and many other toiletry items as well. Guests are also treated to tableside entertainment skits. Just imagine if all other restaurants, airlines and hotels could apply innovation, superior service and a passion for customer service? What a happier and more profitable place the world would be.