Empathetic Service Mindset

I rarely have a chance to travel with Korean Air except when I visit my family in Korea. However – whenever I travel with them, I can’t help smiling at their one unique service:
Stickers for the passenger sleeping or away from the seat during the inflight service.

If you had experienced waking up in the middle of the flight hungry, or even worse – woken up by a persistent flight attendant who wants to fulfill his/her duty by distributing the goods to you, you will appreciate this little attention to detail. There were two different kinds of stickers I have seen in Korean Air flights.

This simple sticker was used during the domestic flight from Busan to Seoul, of which the flight time is just 45 minutes. It was put on by the flight attendant during the complimentary drink service.

guy sleeping

real grey

This set of stickers were in the seat on the 2-hour flight from Seoul to Tokyo, so that the passenger can choose appropriate ones to put on the seat before going to sleep or any type of ‘rest’ mode. A suitable variation of the same service intent when there were more types of services offered.

grey sticker

The definition of a good service may be inherently subjective. We probably all have our own opinions on it, as we surely know the feeling of being served properly. Restaurants are probably a good place to discover the meaning of a good service mindset that suits you. Personally, I started to distinguish services in general in two criteria:

1. Ones that are motivated by the server wanting to be recognized
e.g., In a very posh Indian hotel restaurant, the waiters came to our table every other minute to ask ‘Is everything alright?’, interrupting our conversation every time.
e.g., In a busy restaurant in Tokyo, the waiter cleared the plates away from the table immediately when I was eyeing on my last bit of the remaining sauce.

2. Ones that are motivated by the server’s empathy to the served
e.g., In a restaurant in California, the waitress brought a new fork as soon as she noticed me dropping mine on the floor.
e.g., In a restaurant in Seoul, the waitresses roams around the restaurant and refills the kimchi plate constantly till your meal is almost over, which allows adjusting the amount of kimchi served to each customer, without the customers always having to ask for more portions.
e.g., On a rainy day in Osaka, a cafe owner offered me an umbrella as I was paying the bill. She must have noticed that I didn’t bring one despite the weather, and discreetly offered it to me at the right time.

I draw a parallel between the real world services and the interaction design solutions in computer software or mobile phone service. Both take a great deal of understanding of the individual clienteles’ preferences and recognizing the intentions of the situations that are not explicitly communicated. And it is becoming more and more complex to do this as many design solutions are done to serve a large group of individuals with extremely diverse cultural backgrounds. Given the complexity I find my two simple criteria for distinguishing the restaurant services helpful in deciding features in service design that should be done invisibly or automatically, from the ones that you should prompt for the user’s decision based on contextual observations. Something that our old friendly office clip understood well – but executed rather poorly.

Most my references come from my restaurant experiences, but increasingly from inflight services. So far, my worst bit of inflight service experiences was the BA flight attendant refusing to help me with loading my luggage because she was not insured to the injury incurred by helping me”. Services are a tight interaction between the server and the served. Sometimes external constraints like BA’s policy on its employees prevent the server from providing a good service. It was nice of her to explain the reason for not helping me at least – as I could use some sympathy towards her rather than feeling angry. A nice gentleman helped me with the luggage anyway.

2 thoughts on “Empathetic Service Mindset

  1. nyuudo

    Regardless the subjective opinions (due to cultural differences and personal preferences) it’s a clever approach to what flight standard services could be. Anyway you’re a frequent flight’s customer.

  2. Yong Se Kim

    Hello Younghee Jung,

    I read this accidentally as I was googling
    “empathy light design”…

    Your comparison of restaurant services are very interesting,
    and I am with you in finding analogy in human-human interaction and human-system interaction.

    I think affordance issue is in the same case for these two.

    In good service interaction, service providers would be giving and perceiving proper affordances to and from service receivers. Service design should accomodate these affordances are designed in the service interaction.

    Looking forward to reading more about your thougts.

    p.s.
    As I read the posts, I recognized that you attended a conference in Seoul in 2009. I attended too, but I did not have a chance to introduce myself. Please let me know when you come to Korea next time, so that we can arrange your talk at my institute.

Comments are closed.