Customer Service Around The World


kl.pngThis is the thirteenth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Malaysia is an interesting study in business practices and customer service. In some way, very different than ay other country I have been to. To do it justice, I'm doing this over two installments. This first one is simply my take on Malaysia as a country.

It's 3:00pm in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (most commonly referred to as simply "KL"), and a soft drizzle begins. I head into a nearby restaurant, because I know what's coming. Sure enough, twenty minutes later, a violent thunderstorm of mammoth proportions begins. In Ottawa, where I live, it would have made the nightly news.  In KL, though, nobody bats an eyelash. It is, after all, three o'clock. You can set your watch by it. 40 minutes later the storm is a passing memory, with the ground briefly a little wetter, and the 32 degree air a little less humid.

Malaysia is one of my all-time favourite places to visit. it is one of the most gentle, peaceful and diverse countries on the planet. From the absolute serenity of tropical islands like Redang, to the breathtaking beauty of Kota Kinibalu in Sabah, to the never-ending motion of downtown Kuala Lumpur, it has anything anyone could want.

Although this emerging nation is becoming best known internationally for its powerful oil & gas and financial industries, the true heart of Malaysia is its people. I find it interesting, with a twist of irony, that this country is so focused on modernizing - on establishing itself as a true 'first-world' nation.  The truth is, most first-world nations would do well to try and learn from the Malaysians.

Malaysia is, by and large, a peaceful country. Like all countries, of course, there are some worrying social undercurrents, and strongly diverse political differences, but the overall culture somehow manages to remain gentle. There are also some long-standing tensions that exists between ethnic Malays and ethnic Chinese, which is exacerbated by the "Bumiputra policy" law designed to give preferential treatment to ehtnic Malays. But even with that, they still manage to make it work.

Religion plays a large role in Malaysia. It is, by law, a Muslim country, and is perhaps a global role-model for religious tolerance, with people from all religions living and working side by side. From an outsider's perspective, there appears to be far more respect for each other's differences than there is division.

Malaysia a relatively safe country - with severe penalties for most crime and zero tolerance for drugs. Interestingly, Malaysians are by far their own worst critics and will tell you that crime in KL is rampant. In comparison to other large cities, and especially other emerging nations, it's really pretty good. I think that the Malaysian dismay over the crime that does exist may actually speak more towards their culture and high standards than it does reality.

Even in the short decade that I have been visiting Malaysia, I have seen profound change and growth in business practices and customer service. It is at an interesting stage right now, however, with technology and growth far exceeding their current business ideology and culture.  Although most business people I have met here are too close to it to see, they are very much at a crossroads. In my next post, I'll review the good and the bad - and some of the big changes organizations in this country will have to make to really make it to the global dance floor.

Stay tuned for part two coming in a couple of days!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience, employee engagement and workplace performance for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
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Customer Service In Florence Italy

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This is the twelfth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Statue of David small.jpgFlorence Italy is a tourist town. If it weren't for the Statue of David, the Art Gallery and the Gigantic amounts of wine in the region, Florence would not be on a lot of people's bucket lists. Underneath the surface of the thousands of hawkers and shops selling tourist junk, however, Forence has the spirit of Italy.

When all is said and done, Italy is about people. It is about family and friends. When they meet someone for the first time, it is simply a friend they haven't gotten to know yet. There is a genuine joy in this culture. Even when you watch two friends shouting and gesturing at each other, you can feel that it stems from a deep passion for life.

The food in Italy is breathtaking in its freshness and the care in which it is prepared. The drink - whether it is a local wine, beer or orange juice squeezed off of a tree in the back yard - is legendary. But, while Italians love to eat and drink, the food and wine are just vehicles for being with people.

The times where you will see Italians being very serious is when they are on the job. Italians take profound pride in their jobs. Whether you are talking with a driver, a shop owner, a winery employee or a construction worker, you can hear it in their voices and see it in their faces.

This unique blend of a passion for people and a passion for work is a beautiful recipe for customer service. It has been a terrific experience.

Apparently, however, we didn't experience the best of it. In one of the beautiful wineries we visited in the Chianti Region - Rocco Della Macie - the employee told us that the people are much friendlier in Southern Italy. We had no reason to doubt her, but I can't even imagine what that might look like.

If you get the chance, I would highly recommend you visit that winery. The wines and the people are outstanding. I would also suggest a visit to Borgo Scopeto e Caparzo in Montelchino. A wonderful, fairly new, family winery that provides a terrific experience.

Shaun


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
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Customer Service Kudos to Air Canada

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This is the eleventh installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries. (for the previous installment, see this link)

air canada.jpgAir Canada is the largest airline in Canada. Throughout the 90's and 2000's, they took a lot of well-deserved heat about their customer service. Their processes, policies and practices were not customer-focused, and they seemed to have more than their share of employees who really just didn't care whether or not customers were happy.

The strides they have made over the last decade, however, have been tremendous. Although they don't get a lot of credit for it - Canadian travellers still love to trash Air Canada - there is no doubt that their customer service ranks in the very top of North American airlines.

I recently made a trip from Florence Italy. The last leg of the flight - a 6 hour journey from London to Ottawa - was a great example of outstanding customer service. Here's a quick overview of what made it memorable:

The flight attendants were cheerful and helpful. One in particular (I wish I had gotten her name) was genuinely a treat. I asked her if there was anything I could do about the malfunctioning power port my laptop was plugged into. At first, when she said, "let me see what I can do," I really thought nothing much was going to happen. Five minutes later, however, she came back and asked if she could take my laptop to check other ports on the empty seats to see if any of them might work better. Even though I told her that I wasn't overly concerned, she made a point to apologize several times, then kept checking with me to see how I was faring. Her concern about my satisfaction was genuine and there was no doubt that, when she was unable to resolve the issue, she had done everything in her power to make it right.

When we landed in Ottawa, my wife's luggage didn't. This is never a happy moment. But a terrific gentleman at the Air Canada luggage counter handled the situation with empathy, and very carefully walked us through the process they would be following. He told us what to expect, and how we could follow up. While we didn't walk away with the luggage, we did walk away beleiving that getting our luggage quickly was important to him.

And that's the thing about outstanding customer service. In every business, things occasionally go sideways. It's inevitable. But an engaged, positive employee who takes ownership over situations can make all the difference between a bad experience and a good one. A customer still might be unhappy about the situation, but they are far more likely to give a company a mulligan if they feel someone actually cares about them.

Anyone who flies frequently on North American airlines knows how poor the industry can be. I wouldn't have said this ten years ago, but Air Canada is one of the bright lights.

Is there a payoff for having better customer service than the other guys? Absolutely. People have a choice in this industry, and customer service plays a huge role in travellers' decisions.
I'm heading off next week on the long flight from Toronto to Hong Kong, for example. Given my most recent experience with Air Canada, why would I fly with anyone else?

Congratulations AC - Keep up the good work!

(For everyone who's been following this fun journey, I still have posts coming up on our visit to Florence, Morocco, Palma de Mallorca and Corsica.  Stay tuned!)

Shaun


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
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Why Southwest Rocks Customer Service

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Southwest Airlines is known for their great customer service.  Here's a terrific example of what it is like to be on one of their flights!  http://ow.ly/LxKlh

Enjoy!

Shaun


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All Customer Service Paths Lead To Italy

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This is the tenth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

cinqueterre2.jpgIf the levels of customer service in Spain are great, those in Italy can only be described as awesome. As with everything and every place there are exceptions, of course, but overall, Italians take their relationships with their customers very seriously.

When it comes to work in general, Italians are very serious. They take great pride in what they do, and make great effort to do it well. When it comes to people, however, the serious demeanour disappears in favour of laughter and togetherness.  In one Michelin rated restaurant in Cinque Terre, for example, our first impressions was that of a dispassionate crew more intent on processing customers than on creating a positive experience. But this impression was dismissed almost immediately.

The maitre'd (also owner and head chef I think) was frighteningly serious as he seated us. What we realized, though, was that he was just concerned about making sure we were seated in a comfortable place. Once we were, he broke out into a big smile and introduced our server. She was extraordinarily helpful with the menu, and laughed easily. But the frivolity ended when she left the table. She switched her focus from getting along to getting it right.

Similarly in the first restaurant we visited in La Spezia, where I think we were actually served by the grandmother. By the time we finished, I could have been convinced that she was my own grandmother. Later that evening, we were at a restaurant (the name of which I have, sadly, lost) . One of the best restaurants I have ever been to. When I start my own restaurant, Federica will be the first server I hire. Outstanding.

Maybe the best part is that the breathtaking beauty and rich culture of this country takes everything to yet another level. In Italy, it's hard not to feel at home.

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
http://twitter.com/ShaunBelding


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Customer Service In Spain - Ola!

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This is the eighth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Customer Service in Spain

Cadiz Cafe.jpgThis is the ninth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Cadiz, Malaga, Valencia and Palma de Mallorca

Spain is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The culture, which was influenced by the Romans, Moors, Muslims and Christians over the last two thousand years, is rich and complex.

As a North American, one of the most difficult adjustments I had to make has been the Siesta. Shops and business will close from 2-5pm, and many restaurants from 4-8pm.

The long tradition began as a way to give workers a break from the fields under the hot Spanish Sun. Up until 2012, Spanish law limited store trading hours to 72 per week, so stores adopted the siesta period in order to say open later in the evening. In 2012, the law increased the hours to 90 per week, but a great many shop owners have not taken advantage of that.

Needless to say, though, I'm used to the convenience factor of stores being open pretty much whenever I want, so this whole siesta thing is taking a lot of getting used to. (Although I really like the idea of mid-afternoon napping...)

The Spanish are tremendously friendly, and this is obvious in the customer service everywhere. The service is not as fast, perhaps, as in other places, but it always seems to come with a smile.

The pace in Spain is relatively slow - though not the plodding slow that one might find in the Caribbean. If you ask someone a question here, even to someone who might not speak your language, you won't get brushed off. They will do their best to try and answer, and not give up until you're happy.

All in all, with the beauty, the history and the people, Spain needs to be on everybody's bucket list.

Tomorrow - France.  Stay tuned!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
http://twitter.com/ShaunBelding


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arrecife coffee.jpgThis is the eighth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Lanzarote is one of the seven Canary Islands off of the coast of Africa. It's a large island, volcanic in origin, and not heavily populated.
Arrecife, where we stopped is the largest city.

The first thing one notices is the beautiful contrast between the dark volcanic earth and the pure white buildings. The second thing one notices is how tremendously friendly everyone seems to be.

Restaurants, coffee shops, taxis, stores - it didn't matter. We were treated like friends. Perhaps the most memorable was the taxi driver, Miguel, who took us to the breathtaking Timanfaya National Park. He took great pains to ensure we missed nothing. If you find yourself in Arrecife, he's the cabbie you want. Just look for the only Mercedes SUV cab on the lsland.  And special mention go to the employees of the crazy-busy Granier coffee shop in Lanzarote, who just rocked!

The primary industry on the island is tourism, so great customer service is, perhaps, to be expected. But having travelled to many destinations that rely on tourism, so far, this one is at the top of the list. Not hard to understand why The Canary Islands are one of the most popular destinations for British vacationers.

Tomorrow - Casablanca Morocco.  Stay tuned!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
http://twitter.com/ShaunBelding


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Customer Service in The NO Bar

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sparkly staircase.jpgThis is the seventh installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

The MSC Preziosa has 17 lounges and bars to accommodate the 3,000+ passengers on board. Although there are some delightful and memorable exceptions, the employees in these lounges and bars may be the worst trained and managed teams in food and beverage history.

The worst of the worst is in The NO Bar.

Okay, it's not actually called the NO bar. The official name is Il Cappuccino. We've begun calling it the NO bar because "no" seems to be their default first answer to everything.

"You have Cafe Latte?"
"No"
"But isn't that it on the menu?
"Oh, yes"

"Can I have a Irish Coffee made with decaf?"
"No"
"How come"
"Okay, well maybe"

In the NO bar, everything is an effort...

A few steps from the NO bar is the wine bar, which is usually pretty good. One young Balinesian server is one of the real bright lights on this ship. But sometimes, during shift changes, people from the NO bar will fill in at the wine bar - and they bring their No's with them.

"We have a bottle of Chianti saved here. Can we get that from you?
"No. I wouldn't know anything about that"
"How about you check that little fridge beside you"
"Oh. There it is..."

The part that is getting to all of us is that, with MSC Cruises automatic 15% penalty fee attached to every bill (they call it a 'gratuity', but there is no connection between it and actual customer service), the NO people end up getting paid just as much as the exceptional people. That just doesn't seem fair. And it certainly does nothing to promote better service.

Gabrielle Rocks!

On a quick, unrelated note, there is one person on board who so far stands heads and tails abover everyone else. Her name is Gabrielle. We have no idea what she actually does on the ship, except that she is always smiling, always happy, and seems to be able to remember the names of all 3,000+ passengers.

When I start my own cruise line, she's the first person I'm hiring.

Today we are on Tenerife of The Canary Islands. Stay tuned!


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When is a Tip not a Tip?

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waitress.jpgThis is the sixth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

When you think of the word "tip" or the word "gratuitiy," what do you think of?  Personally, I think of it as the opportunity to thank someone for the customer service you have received. In Canada, and many other countries, a tip can vary depending on the level of service.  There are times, for example, I've left as much as 40% for truly exceptional experiences, but then left nothing for truly horrendous ones.

In many European countries, the 'tip' is built in.  It really isn't a gratuity at all, but a fee - a surcharge - with no real benefit attached.  It is basically a restaurant's way of saying, "We've found a way of offsetting a large part of our labour costs."  Such is the case with the MSC Preziosa - and all MSC cruise lines.  They add a 15% surcharge to everything about the cruise - including the cost of the cruise itself.  They call it a 'gratuity', but it really has no relationship to customer service.

Does it really make a difference?  Absolutely.  On the American/British - owned Princess Cruise line, passengers are asked to tip their cabin attendants at the end of the cruise.  That tip gets distributed amongst all of the staff.  The better the service has been, the more money everyone makes.  Simple.  The result?  On the Princess  lines, your cabin attendant takes great pains to introduce hiimself or herself.  He/she goes out of his way to make sure you are getting everything you need.  Throughout the ship, everyone is engaged and involved.  The crew hold each other accountable, because they know that it only takes one poor experience to impact everyone.  

That is not the case on the MSC Preziosa.  Because the 15% "Gratuity" (surcharge) is mandatory, everyone gets the same - no matter how well or how poorly their customer service is.  

My question is, why not just raise the cost of the cruise by 15% and stop the pretense of it being a gratuity?

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
http://twitter.com/ShaunBelding


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preziosa-lounge.jpgThis is the fifth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries - and customer service aboard the MSC Preziosa. (for the previous installment, see this link)

Over the last six days aboard the MSC Preziosa we've seen an impressive and steady improvement in customer service. We're not entirely sure what has transpired internally to create the change, but it is a very different experience now than it was just a few days ago.

Friendly, helpful staff - that seemed non-existent before - are now in abundance. They seem more relaxed. More focused on the passengers. While we're still encountering some who appear far more task-oriented than customer-oriented, it's not happening nearly as frequently.

We're experiencing some truly outstanding moments now. Nothing earth shattering or "Wow," but those things aren't necessary for an outstanding experience. What we're experiencing now is the sense that the staff care about the passengers, and that's what outstanding customer service is all about.

Stay tuned!

Shaun 


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

www.beldingskills.com
www.retailtrack.com
https://www.facebook.com/BeldingSkills
http://twitter.com/ShaunBelding

 


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This is the thirteenth installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries. (for the previous installment, see this link) Malaysia is an interesting study in business practices and customer service. In some way, very different than ay other country I have been to. To...



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