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Provide service with a smile?

I have had the pleasure of visiting the USA during the winter. Passing through US Immigration, that is, where they check your passport and ask you what your purpose in the country is, is not always such a pleasant experience. I saw that they had put up new posters in the area where you go through passport control. The posters said “We are the face of America” and a list of things they promise me as a traveler, including treating me with respect and that I can always talk to a manager if I have something I want to bring up, and more.
This is good and a step in the right direction, the only question is whether it is also linked to the expression of providing service with a smile and that an improvement has been made there? I was hoping for that, but was disappointed when I got to the lady at passport control. I was tired after a long journey and with a screwed up day behind me, so I wasn’t really on the alert. To be met with a stony face and critical questions in an unpleasant tone does not make things better.

I have met passport controllers who have understood that they “are the face of America“, by smiling and being pleasant in tone. This way, the arrival in the country is a pleasant experience in line with the rest of the trip, instead of an adrenaline rush. A few years ago I also had the pleasure of visiting Malaysia. What met me then was something completely different. Happy faces with a welcoming “Welcome to Malaysia” greeted me, and then started a relaxed check of the passport and my purpose in the country.

So who is the customer in this context? One can first say that the citizens of the country are the customers as they want secure borders. I do not agree with that, because in my view the citizens are instead the owners of the business, because they want secure borders and have therefore set up an organisation for that purpose. The traveller, on the other hand, is the customer and this is part of the traveller’s experience and thus also part of the Travel process. If you travel to visit someone, a company or a person, they are also a stakeholder in the whole thing. They want the traveller to visit them, so it’s important that the traveller also gets to them safely, quickly and with a pleasant experience.

Is it possible to have a high level of security while being friendly and professional? Of course it is! As an individual employee, in this case a passport control officer, you have to understand that you are part of the country – that you are the face of the country. You have to treat all travellers with respect and bear in mind that 99.9% of them are visiting the country legally. Most of the people you meet are therefore ordinary, decent citizens. At the same time, the unwanted elements must be traceable and dealt with in an appropriate professional manner.

We can learn from US Immigration that it is easier to print posters with a message than it is to change a culture in the business.
What does it look like in your organisation? What are the behaviours that you have that make it difficult to achieve the success that is possible, and to give customers that great service that they expect?

If you are interested in learning more about service and how to organise yourself with a full focus on customers, then take a look at one of the training courses I run. And don’t forget to read the book A Little Like the Dalai Lama for Organizations.

For the success of you and your business!