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Oh, they're just not cut out for a service job... You've heard someone describe someone else like that haven't you? It's what we say about someone who comes off grouchy, or unpleasant, particularly in a role dealing with customers. Maybe its a phrase like: some people have it, and some don't... or the way hiring managers word it: we hire for customer service talent. The gist of phrases like like these is that customer service is a skill some people have and other's are incapable of.
I've been mentally wrestling with that question myself. I'll take it a step further. I believe the root of customer service is a combination of empathy and ability to act on empathetic feelings. I often wonde if some people are empathetic and others aren't. Why is one nurse willing to go the extra mile and other thinks the call bell is a bother? You know the old joke about restaurants? This would be a great place to work if it weren't for the customers. Not exactly an empathetic feeling is it?
But, some people really seem to feel that way, like customers are actually an annoyance. So, are they born that way, or is there more to it?
I had a great, inspring conversation this week with someone knows a lot more about this stuff than I do. She turned me on to a video from RSA Animate - The Empathic Civilisation. It's a visually compelling look at a researcher's thoughts about empathy.
The narrator suggests we are, in fact, all born with a biological wiring towards empathy. He goes on to say empathy is what makes us special and may even be what will save civilization as we know it. I know, right? Big stuff!
I'm inclined to agree. And, if we're all hardwired for empathy, what does that say about those people we label as grouches? Maybe it has more to the with organizational culture - that's the second half of my equation: the ability to act on empathetic feelings.
Organizations, leaders and culture have to empower employees to act on their empathetic feelings towards others. The have to make room for customer service to happen. When we try to script or pigeonhole people's service presentation, it's no wonder some people react with negative attitude.
Ask any kid who they would list as heroes and role models and my guess is that pilots are on that list. I bet doctors are too. Ask any adult what they think about traveling or going to see a healthcare provider and their reaction may not be as awe inspiring.
On this week's Splendid Table Podcast (and radio show) Lynn interviewed Phoebe Damrosch, author of Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter (New York Times Notable Books) ">. Phoebe worked her way from a waiter to captain at Thomas Keller's Per Se restaurant. I recently posted our menus from a meal at Per Se in December and remarked that the service made the experience. I have not read Service Included yet, but my copy is on order. Listening to Damrosh speak about the training and execution of world class service was inspiring. It has made me wonder - what can we learn from that level of service?
In healthcare, my other passion, we often talk about having a compassionate presence. But if you have ever spent any time in a busy ER, either as a patient, family member or part of a care-giving team, you can relate to how challenging that environment often is. While it would be inappropriate to suggest that the work of a world class restaurant is on par with that of an emergency room, there are some important similarities. Both center around a busy, highly skilled core with support staff working both the 'front' and 'back' of the 'room'. It is a dance that when executed perfectly looks like a Viennese waltz (something Damrosch says was part of their training, how they learn to move around a room).
I am the first to admit that in a clinically demanding situation, I get out of the way ASAP. But during those other times - the elderly person walking in the door, the family member with a lost look wondering the halls, the young child being admitted - how can we in healthcare learn from waiters at Per Se? How can we become at once disarmingly personal and staunchly professional?
I am looking forward to reading Service Included as soon as it arrives. Will I share my thoughts here? It would be my pleasure!