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Monday, July 31, 2017

Customer Service Redefined

I am currently in Vietnam as part of my faculty relationship with Northeastern University to teach a course on Strategic Leadership at the International University in Ho Chi Min City. Being a vegetarian, I asked about the menu options at the hotel I stayed prior to my departure.  There were a few options presented. Upon arriving at the hotel, I explored all the four vegetarian menu choices in a couple of days! I had about 10 more days to go! Naturally, I was worried and started walking around to find other healthy vegetarian options!

I explained this to the chef at the hotel, Saigon Prince, and this is when I started a new definition of customer service. The chef patiently asked me more about my preferences clarifying food options are considered acceptable for me. He even asked me to share with me a few menu choices and coming from an India background I provided ideas of Indian menu choices first followed by other cuisine ideas like Italian, Chinese, and Mexican recommendations. The chef was a Vietnamese origin and prepared me a couple of off-the-menu Indian choices. What surprised me was his reading about the Indian menu choices I presented along with the ways of preparation! I was pleasantly shocked to the attention to the detail in preparing the area for making my dish and also giving me a clear vegetable broth soup that he found from his research accompanied this sort of dish. Needless to say, I was so happy that I recognized his due diligence and efforts by talking with the senior management appreciating him.

There were days the chef couldn't be there and so I still had to use my survival skills to explore the region. Using a combination of technology finding local Indian restaurants, I found about five Indian restaurants. One of these restaurants, Saigon India, particularly caught me off guard with another exemplary customer service. While most restaurants gave what I needed, the manager approached me and wanted to know a little more about as he has not seen me before. That itself is an example of a good customer service of differentiating frequent visitors from new visitors and trying to offer specialized service. Additionally, knowing more about my food challenges and interests, he specifically custom ordered a dish and also made the lunch menu to be one of my favorites. I was so pleasantly surprised with this burning desire to know more about the customers and catering to their needs by customized service.

Both these two businesses realize that I am a passing visitor. Not making any efforts to truly understand my needs, clarifying my requests, and following through on servicing my needs is really within the normal expectations of operating a restaurant or cafe. So long as the quality of the food, timely delivery of order, and demonstrating respect for me has been addressed, both these businesses have met the standard operational definition of customer service. But, both of them redefined customer service in their attempt to understand the food challenge that I faced, clarify the requirements, research more to meet my demands, and then deliver a dish that met my requirements.

To me, they have redefined customer service. Customer service is not mentioning customer is the king but truly making him or her feel like one. Whether the existing products meet the customer's demand or not, trying to understand the customer's request and the reasons behind such a request first applies the four stages of active listening (hear, clarify, interpret, and respond) and follow through with the products they had available to meet the customer's needs. That truly made the customer feel like king and in today's globally shrinking world the customer may be far away but can still be a great marketing aid. As the basic rule of marketing goes, I will always refer them to anyone traveling to Ho Chi Ming City in Vietnam.

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