Obsession with service makes them stand out

2013-10-15 00:00

IN some countries, the sheer competition for resources means that most days are a fight for survival, and those who excel, do so because they work hard at doing the right things.

I learnt two very important business lessons when I visited India. The first lesson was about humility and service.

I was part of a business delegation and we travelled by bus from the state-of-the-art Hyderabad Airport to our hotel. It was a long journey and I was seated next to a woman who I soon discovered was visually impaired. After chatting for a while, she asked if I could please describe for her everything that I could see through the window.

What a privilege that was, because I looked really closely at things, instead of just glancing at them. Since then, I have been much more conscious of the details in my surroundings. It was probably because of this that I also paid special attention to the people around me in the ensuing days.

It was very hot and as we stepped off the bus onto the dusty gravel outside our hotel, a group of young Sikh men came out of the shadows to unpack the luggage. It was wonderful to feel like they had been expecting us. A man who had been determinedly unpacking cases carried my suitcase to the reception desk for me.

As I smiled a thank you, he extended his hand and said: “Welcome, my name is Jagjeet, and I am the general manager of the hotel, and I am at your service.” How refreshing and what a welcome for ordinary me. From that moment on, Jagjeet and his staff exceeded my service expectations. Nothing was too much trouble.

Jagjeet listened and responded, and he led his team by example. His staff were friendly, but never intrusive. I have not, before or since, experienced hotel service like that.

Humility is an essential element of exceptional service and so is leading by example. The truth is that if you want to stand out from the masses, you need to be so much better at your core business than everyone else is, and if that is service, then beware, Jagjeet has set the bar very high.

Before we travelled to Hyderabad, we had spent a couple of days in Mumbai.

Before I share my other lesson with you, perhaps I should paint a bit of a picture for those of you who haven’t been fortunate enough to visit Mumbai.

My immediate reaction to the place was rising panic. I was rooted to the spot by total sensory overload. There are cars and buses, tuk-tuks, animals, bicycles and scooters riding eight abreast on a two-lane road, all hooting. There are hundreds of flashing signs, streams of people everywhere (even in-between the traffic) and they all seem to be talking at the same time. The air is thick with smells that vary between intoxicating and putrid, and it is difficult to breathe in the suffocating humidity. There is so much going on at the same time.

It was while I was trying to get a grip of myself that I first met W, pronounced “double u”. W is a Hindu priest and is my taxi driver in Mumbai. You would think that this means that I travel to Mumbai regularly, sadly, I do not. You must be wondering then, how it is that I come to have this taxi driver in Mumbai, and how it is, that of all the millions of taxi drivers in Mumbai, I am loyal to a fellow with such a strange name.

W was the first person I met in Mumbai. He collected my colleagues and me at the airport. We chatted all the way to the hotel, and before long, I was feeling quite comfortable, panic subdued. We made an arrangement for him to pick us up the next day and exchanged phone numbers.

W took us all around Mumbai, waiting for us outside every shop and temple, and chatting to us animatedly between stops. He took care of us, and made sure that we weren’t ripped off. I remember asking him where I could get a new battery for my watch. “Oh no, Madam,” said W, “they will charge you too much — allow me.” He disappeared into the crowd and returned with my watch, new battery installed, for a couple of rupees. Our self-appointed guardian.

We had a fabulous time and paid W well at the end of the day. One would think that that is where the relationship would end, but W is no ordinary taxi driver.

They say that true entrepreneurs are obsessive about their businesses and that they go to lengths that most people can’t imagine.

Since that first meeting, I have received a phone call from W at least three times a year. A far-away voice says: “Hello, it’s W”, and then I am updated on all his family news. W is not only the friendliest taxi driver that I have met, he is also the savviest. He fostered in me a genuine fondness for Mumbai, and I will return whenever I have the opportunity to do so, and I will never use another taxi driver. This is how W came to be my taxi driver in Mumbai.

If you’ve ever wondered how you stand out from the crowd and secure loyalty — this is how. Not only do you ensure that your customers will use you every time they need your services, but you also create walking, talking advertising boards — in this case, all over the world.

When conditions are tough, and competition is high, people are at their most resourceful. There is much to be learnt from those who stand out from the crowd in places where the crowd is endless.

• Melanie Veness is the chief executive officer of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Commerce.

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