Tag Archives: services

Being prepared : Service mindset

Preparing small notes and changes often becomes the responsibility of consumers in India – based on what I have experienced so far, which is different mentality compared to Japan or Korea especially. If you only have 100 or 500 rupee notes, be prepared for delays in getting your changes back, or even the risk of not being able to buy what you want. I cannot yet find a pattern with which this happens. It just happens. I experienced it so far at: office canteen, food court at the flower show, street vendors, high-end grocery, or entrance fee to an exhibition. If this happens at general stores, I might be offered to buy more products that would fit the corresponding amount of the lacking change.

It so happened when we were driving to Tamil Nadu. One of the highway tollbooths gave a piece of chocolate instead of one rupee coin. It is a witty solution, but I consider it a misdirected effort: getting candies ready instead of one rupee coints. Other more fair and sustainable solutions are abound, however perhaps they might be just slightly out of reach to those who work at the tollbooths.

service availability / discovery

By the entrance of a convenience store in Seoul, stickers indicating the service offerings available in the store are shown – all printed in a standardized size. The potential to make the service availability indication digital, making them searchable and discoverable remotely? Who would be the right organization / institution/corporation to take up the role to issue such a standardized service availability database?

Stickers are:
A brand of newspaper
A mobile phone charging service; Payment options called pre-p
Door-to-door delivery service; Bill payment
Cash receipt for taxation; Loyalty membership scheme

Listing that, I realize how much I miss these always nearby, always available convenience stores in Korea and Japan…

proof of freshness

at a casual restaurant in accra, customers order first which items they want on their plates. the prepared plates get these white caps till they are finally handed to the paid customers.

accra restaurant

at a korean restaurant in shanghai, all tables are set with plates and cutlery covered till customers are seated on the table.

a korean restaurant, shanghai

at a restaurant in tokyo (tokatsu tonki in meguro), toothpicks are covered with a clear glass.

bottle caps

at a street cafe in accra, bottled drinks are served with half-open bottle caps.

bottle  caps

some of these are for practical reasons, some more symbolic to show their service mentality. i do get my tiny moments of happiness when i can sense that someone has thought through how the customer would feel about their service and the food.

on a slight tangent, i cant help thinking about various possible seals on digital information, for instance – ‘freshness – from within 1 day’, ‘authenticity’, or ‘exclusivity’. in the late 90’s of the internet age, reputation and social recommendation systems were a big topic (or at least around T.J.Watson research center where I worked as a student). internet is a social place & inherently everything’s centered/centering around people behind, but i believe we are reaching an era in which some parts of the society will demand digital information identity as much as humans’ that does not get subjected to the democracy of people’s behaviors and subjective opinions.

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.

thorough or overkill

thorough or overkill
Originally uploaded by jabberer.

Thorough, i think.

Got my first biz trip ticket from the company’s travel agency. First of all, two people came to deliver tickets (not only for me of course). Then enclosed are tickets, docs and docs including filled in re-entry form, satisfaction survey and a return envelope. Nice service, but 80% directly to trash except tickets. I think my soul will feel very guilty for the planet earth living here at the amount of trash i end up generating. Ah, gotta learn to say ‘no plastic bag please’ in the shop.

automated delivery rescheduling system

automated delivery rescheduling system
Originally uploaded by jabberer.

It must be a big company to have developed such a system to reduce the number of call center use. Apple store’s delivery guy left a note of unsuccessful delivery attempt. I think i managed to handle this w my gut-feeling japanese. The result? Tomorrow will tell.

Apple store and Amazon japan were very different in terms of quality of customer service. Amazon lives up to the brand’s reputation, but Apple (no comparable exp, but mind you this is about online shopping exp) disappointed me. But its not to undermine apple- but rather to express my amazement at the empire amazon managed to build.

feeling deceived

feeling deceived
Originally uploaded by jabberer.

Not having internet at home has been a great pain, and righteously i asked my colleague to call the company to check the progress since i got no sign that my application via snail mail was even received. The company doesnt even have email address to write to- only call center.

She told me they’re preparing to send me a ‘guidebook’ which contains info about setting the service, and i can expect it in a week. Thought it’d have been nicer if i got this info as email to confirm at least i’m in the queue, but anyway good news. Still cant understand why this possibly takes so long since the building is physically ready already.

I came home before 9pm today cuz i stayed till 3am yesterday in the office and it was quite depressing. I found a network cable and plugged it in just in case. And there, 100mbps sign blinked right on! Have i wasted all my time just for that bloody useless guidebook to be physically sent home? As an ISP, do they even know a comm medium called email?

the gas man

the gas man
Originally uploaded by jabberer.

The man i was happiest to see. He was really really polite, or, trying to be as unnoticeable as possible. After opening up the gas supply, he had to check all the equipments using the gas whether they were functioning.

The cost of living with risks of the earthquake is quite expensive for japanese people. There’s a reset button for the gas which checks all the parts in the house for the potential gas leak. Of course, he too left me with a pile of paper and instruction manuals.

fridge delivery

fridge delivery
Originally uploaded by jabberer.

These ‘white’ goods are not by default installed in the rental apartment in japan. Two guys came to deliver. First guy was all embarrassed that i was a foreigner, so he turned to the second guy who then asked me: ‘fridge positiong?’ the first guy is all very impressed.

These guys were very efficient and self-sufficient: they made a door-stopper w the card board, unwrapped the product in the corriddor, brought the thing in, removed all the stickers and stuff and left with all the trash. The attention to details is quite amazing for those who work in specialized areas.