Cross-cultural customer service – is fast service good service?

Is fast customer service good customer service?  As I sat waiting for my meal in Athens this Sunday, it was delightful to sit in the shade of a tree, drinking beer, waiting for my meal to arrive and feeling in no hurry. I had the afternoon to kill before meeting some people for dinner.  So slow service was exactly what I wanted.

It reminded me of an experience at a Munich hotel I had some years ago.  It was the opening night for a brand new airport hotel. The manager of the restaurant came across very proudly and said, “Don’t worry, sir, we can get you served and out of here in 30 minutes”.  I replied, “That’s the last thing that I want, because I’ve got an evening in a hotel, I know nobody here, I want to read my book and I’d like the meal to last for a couple of hours.”

We had an interesting discussion about different cross-cultural ad contextual assumptions about what is good service – fast or slow.

When I first moved to France, I found waiting a long time for meals quite frustrating because I was used to being served quickly and equated this with good service.  But eventually I appreciated not being in a culture where you had to book a table at 7 or 9 because they expected you to be out in two hours. In France a table was for the evening. Having time to relax with friends and not feel rushed was an integral part of the experience.  I missed that a lot when I came back to the UK, often feeling under pressure to finish my meal faster than I wanted to, to get out, for the benefit of the restaurant –  not at all for the benefit of the customer.

So there are cultural differences in how service, and speed of service in particular are perceived and there are also times within our own culture where we want different types of service.

The simple solution for restaurants and other service providers – why not ask?

When people sit down, ask “What type of service do you want?  Are you in a rush?”  There is nothing more frustrating than being on a tight deadline and worrying that your meal won’t arrive.  Alternatively, if you have the evening to kill or you want a relaxed experience, you wouldn’t appreciate being rushed through three courses and out of there.

Good customer service is about meeting and exceeding expectations, so why not find out what those expectations are. This is particularly important where you are providing service to multicultural groups of customers but appreciated even within a culture.

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