Mon, 26 May 2003

Genuine excellence or just lip service?

Andi Muh. Sadat Contributor Jakarta

At certain hotels you may have experienced their royal treatment right from the moment you arrive. A friendly, smiling bellboy opens the door of your car and greets you.

Your baggage is attended to with care, then you are escorted to your room and there a welcome drink and a basket of fresh fruit awaits you. During your stay at the hotel, you also find the entire management and staff helpful and courteous.

Soon you realize that all this is not some sort of glossy appearance on the surface, but is rooted in their sincere spirit in serving all their guests. The result is obvious: The satisfying experience turns into indelible memories of the hotel in its entirety.

A world apart from modern hotels, Sampireun village also offers a similar treatment based on the concept of excellence in service. Three hectares in area, located on the outskirts of Garut in West Java, about one-and-a-half hours by car from the provincial capital, Bandung, this scenic and serene village boasts a lake, which is home to various fish, especially goldfish. A number of traditional cottages surround the lake, where a couple of wooden boats are ready to take passengers for a cruise on the calm water.

"Here, at Sampireun village, we combine both excellent service and an experiential marketing concept. We offer not only the scenic beauty of our village with its cool weather, but also its serenity, and, most important, our centuries-old friendliness that differentiates our village from modern resorts, or even other traditional holiday destinations," said village chief Adji Saptadji enthusiastically. The high occupancy rate of the cottages is proof of the successful blending of the concepts.

One of Jakarta's star-rated hotels, Hotel Santika, also offers its guests a unique experiential atmosphere: nuances of traditional Betawi culture, which is associated with native Jakartans. The Borobudur, another star-rated hotel in the city, offers an array of customized services that include nannies or baby-sitters if required. These are just two examples of how far hotels may go to provide their customers with quality service.

On the contrary, you may have had a harrowing experience, similar to what one of my colleagues went through. It is a story of inconsistency in quality of service that leaves customers dissatisfied. My colleague purchased a brand-new motorcycle from a dealer in South Jakarta. Unfortunately, in fewer than three months, its engine broke down. Feeling confident with the three- year warranty, he immediately lodged a complaint. But a month has now passed and the complaint has remained unsettled. Using a variety of excuses, the dealer has not given the customer what was promised. The motorcycle is nothing more than an unusable, useless machine. My disappointed friend has a grudge against the dealer and, worse, the brand.

The above contrasting examples of companies that keep their promise of quality service and those that do not act on their "excellent service" slogans serve to illustrate the different impacts on related brands and company image. Satisfying service not only make customers loyal, but transforms them into "evangelists" or those who spread the good news spontaneously and for free. This type of word-of-mouth recommendation is one of the basic and most vital assets for any company, to ensure not only its survival, but also its growth. Meanwhile, some companies, which treat "excellence in service" as mottos or advertising claims without real implementation, are sure to suffer the speedy negative impact of their dissatisfied customers' complaints. For such companies, it is indeed a painful lesson.

In today's highly competitive, close to cutthroat, environment, there is no other choice for the second type of company but to resort to quality service, the kind that more than meets its customers' needs.

Tom Reilly, a noted marketing consultant and expert, in his book "Value-added selling" wrote that providing excellent service means real added values, which are far different from pricing warfare that normally comprises discounts, bonuses and other special price-related offers. He further asserted that a company's marketing strategy and efforts should embody "a service philosophy" that is not only disseminated at all levels of the company but should be an integral part of its spirit and reflected in its daily activities.

He added that such philosophy is also reflected not only individually but in the solidity of the entire marketing and customer service teams. Endeavors should be made, he said, that everyone in the company feels he or she holds a key position in the process of delivering a valuable and satisfying total experience to the customer.

Another writer of best-selling business books, Jim Collins, who is also a management thinker and educator, said: "it is not sufficient for a company to be just a good company, but its ultimate goal should be to become a great company.

Price is no longer the only effective tool, but, more important, is the consistent creation of lasting values for customers." When a member of marketing or customer service staff sells the company's products or services, he or she should realize that, at the same time, they are also "selling" themselves. Hence, the service given is not robotic, but provided sincerely.

In the case of the motorcycle dealer, clearly, providing quality service was nothing more than an advertising claim or a motto, framed and hung on their wall. It was not a philosophy put into action. They probably relied too much on price, which does not ensure a lasting success. Maybe "excellence in service" exists only in the minds of one or two top managers, but not in the spirit of the next level of staff, who are the actual points of contact with customers.

So, the path to increasing your revenue and reaping more profits is simple: "excellence in service" to maintain current customers and attract new ones. Numerous major companies -- owners of leading brands -- have proven the success of this formula. Hence, there is nothing wrong in being a copycat of these great companies rather than only imitating their slogans, which produces a pile of complaints and, in the end, ruins your business.