Home > Uncategorized > Customer Service is a Culture Thing

Customer Service is a Culture Thing

Couple of weeks ago I saw, and introduced myself to, Tony Hsieh of Zappos fame. We exchanged some pleasantries about his success with Zappos and went our separate ways.

On the flight back, I had some time to thing about Zappos and customer service etc.

The family had just spent a month in the US on a holiday and we were unanimously struck by the friendliness of the staff we met in the various cities we’d visited. Be it a store or a restaurant or co passsengers in a tour. The folks were chatty, warm, easy with a smile or a laugh. While the sales people were probably on a commission there was no sense of fakeness in their demeanour. It was an attitude that made you feel welcome and therefore willing to spend money.

Against that backdrop, hiring staff to work at Zappos probably made it easier to create a customer oriented culture.

One sees the same attitude on South West Airlines too. Funny in-flight announcements, laughter in the aisles all make for a good flight experience.

Now, I am not decrying the value of what the organisation brings to the party wrt values, structures and processes, but the task is easier.

Move to the other end of the world in Singapore and one is always accosted by complaints of poor customer service.

In most of Asia being naturally friendly to strangers is alien to the culture. Being open with questions and comments is not the done thing. ( flaming on social media is different)

Ask anyone who’s made a presentation to an audience in Asia, and ended with ‘Does anyone have any questions?’. 9 times out of 10 there will be none. Except India, of course!

That is the culture in which we are born. Local customer service needs to be viewed against that background.

Companies focused on customer service need to work doubly hard to create a suitable culture. Singapore Airlines is a great example of such a company. Their approach stands out against many players in the customer facing area. If you look closely however, you’ll notice that everything’s been ‘processed’ to the minutest detail.

Bringing this back to the Tony Hsieh conversation. He mentioned this was his first trip to Singapore and was ‘exploring options’ whatever that means. For him to recreate a Zappos like entity in Asia is going to take a different set of skills than what helped him succeed in the US.

Culture counts for a lot and needs strong supporting systems and processes to deliver a positive customer experience.

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  1. July 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    “Ask anyone who’s made a presentation to an audience in Asia, and ended with ‘Does anyone have any questions?’. 9 times out of 10 there will be none.”

    I guess this is a cultural thing. It’s the same in Sweden. The Swedes are famous for not rocking the boat. Presenting creative work to a committee of Swedes is more painful than crawling over broken glass. There’s no reaction. No visual feedback. Everyone’s sitting there all deadpan. And at the end of the presentation, the person in charge of the meeting will counter with “We’ll talk about it and get back to you later.” I’ve learnt to live with it. But believe me, it’s not fun.

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