"The Importance of Being Earnest"


I beg Oscar Wilde’s pardon for playing on the title of his farcical play! The title popped into my mind after receiving yet another dollop of indifferent service by an uninterested waitron. She did not give poor service. We received our meals and drinks and it was perfectly fine. It was served in a reasonable time period and at a reasonable price for what it was. So why was I begrudging when it came to tip time?

The Oxford Dictionary lists the following as synonyms for ‘earnest’: “Serious, steady, committed, dedicated, assiduous, keen, diligent, zealous, industrious, hard-working” … I would not apply one of those adjectives to the server in question. In my view, she was providing the bare minimum performance to stay employed. Simply transferring a plate of food from kitchen to table is a minor function of being a waitron. Sky News recently ran an interesting piece on the rise of robots and the question was posed as to whether they could be a threat to jobs. The consensus was yes. There are many transactional interactions that we have with companies where a person is simply not necessary and, a robot or a computer can work 24/7 with no human error. The growth in DIY service options, whether in supermarkets or on the Internet is a testament to this.

This then begs a second question: If robots are going to become the norm in our day-to-day lives, then what are the ramifications for organisations and employees? I am not going to get into the socio-economic conundrums, but I do want to consider how we can turn a threatening reality into an opportunity. Returning to the restaurant example, we eat out for a variety of reasons, from hunger and convenience to social entertainment and pampering. I happen to be a pretty good cook, so the food itself is certainly not the only reason. The bare minimum I expect is a tasty meal, nicely presented at a price commensurate with the type of restaurant. When I receive exactly what I expected, I do not notice it. I only focus on the meal when it surpasses my expectations or disappoints. The same awareness levels apply to the service around the meal.

If the waitron is reasonably pleasant and efficient, in other words, completely forgettable, then they have done the job required but the average service will receive an average tip. This waitron was simply the bearer of food and drinks, with no attempt to engage or delight us in any way. Her performance was not even forgettable, it was disappointing. Very simply, a robot would have done the job better. Where robots cannot compete with real people is when it comes to human contact.

Immediately after the restaurant experience, I needed to fill up my car. In the current climate, that’s a grudge purchase at best! However, the attendant was the complete opposite of the waitron. He was lively, quick, singing while he worked and he was interested. He spotted that I had a nail in my tyre and a quick air pressure check told me I had a slow leak. Ten minutes later, he had performed an emergency glue procedure, I was on my way and he was a tip richer.

In an increasingly hi-tech world, people are craving high touch, but where it matters. If you can simplify things with technology, do so, but when the customer needs/wants to engage with a real human being, then that person should be unusual – earnest in efforts and extraordinary in the human qualities of care, humour and friendliness.  The adage of hire for attitude and train for skill has never been truer. Forgettable is replaceable. A small business owner cannot afford to hire employees who are untrained or lacking in attitude.

In an economy that is stagnant and where the competition is increasing, the customer service experience is the key determinant to repeat business and positive word of mouth. Hire for attitude, train for skill and lead from the front with energy and earnestness. Be memorable!


By Janet Askew


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