Saturday, November 6, 2010

Of Service And Burritos

There's endless discussion about what service is.  For me, though, it's not so interesting what it is or how you get it,  but the interesting and wide variety of places where you find it. 

Fast-food restaurants are fascinating places.  I know the beef is not grass-fed, nor the chicken free-range, yet because of the sheer volume of clients that demand effective service and are providing these establishments a very slim profit margin, servers must quickly and expertly become tuned in to what works and what doesn't. 

Ironically, personalized service often develops because of the limited time to focus on personalized service needs. This runs counter-intuitive to what would seem even better opportunities for learning good service in the sparsely populated service environment of domestic estates, where, it turns out, there is actually less opportunity for honing the very subtle, softer skills required to understand what an individual really wants at a moments' notice, thus differentiating good from ordinary service experiences.

As a result, the fast-food service provider quickly becomes adept at being sensitive to the clients' process of what works for them, not simply their present order. What can we observe and learn from this service environment, to weave into our own developed understandings of domestic service?

Here are my two favorite examples during the past week:

He correctly focused on my process, not his.
Sunday: In-N-Out Burger.  The soft-spoken young man carefully approached my window and peeked at me for a second before speaking, taking my order, and apologizing for the long line I was trapped in at the drive-thru.  Playing my role as the understanding customer, I politely thanked him and assured him it was really no problem (although it had been, before his arrival).  After he walked away, I quickly did the math and realized that the speaker box normally used for ordering was at least two car lengths between the customer and the first (payment) window, and any confusion in the order could have several minutes - more than enough time - to be worked out, while cars ahead were making their payments.  In other words, this gentle custodian was not really taking orders to speed up his process, he was there to reduce the anxiety of the client being trapped in any process - in this case, a drive-thru burger lane.  He wasn't fulfilling a client's order, he was fulfilling a client's need.

I thought to myself: he gets it.

Wednesday: Chipotle.  The first thing I noticed about her was the T-Shirt.  It simply read, "Good is in the details."  Just those words, no brand name, and nothing about her restaurant being voted a top favorite at something in the local weekly.  After wiping the table next to mine and, with focused purpose, placing the chairs symmetrically opposite each other, she turned and smiled at me.

But wait, don't yawn just yet... it gets better:  She held her eye contact with mine, just one moment longer than her company's handbook most likely had told her to do.  It didn't cross over into invasive, yet was discernibly longer than what was needed for her to get a satisfactory check-mark on her next evaluation and keep her job.  That fraction of a second let me know that she was glad to be serving me.

That burrito tasted better than I had expected.