The first question
‘It is very difficult,’ Diego Masciaga says as we sit in The Waterside Inn’s summerhouse, ‘to write or even talk about Service, because each guest is different and so each service is also different. Service is...’ He pauses, looking out at the river as he seeks the best way to answer the question I asked a moment ago,
‘Just what is Service?’
Another moment slips by. In my notes I write,
He’s wrestling to pin down the necessary explanation.
Only with the benefit of distance and hindsight, I know that I was wrong. He wasn’t wrestling. He was putting a loving arm around the difficulty of explaining the practice – the art – to which he has dedicated his life.
‘Service,’ he says again, ‘Is so difficult to put into words...’
And yet there we were. Seeking to do just that. To find the right words. To write a book – this book – about Diego Masciaga’s approach to creating exemplary customer service. To write about just what Service is and how you measure and maintain it. And why it matters. And why something matters is far more than just its purpose. After all, every structure, system, process in an organisation should have a purpose.
Some things, though, matter far more than others.
Some things matter more because they have – and can achieve – a multitude of purposes and, far more importantly, because we give them emotional power. We find ourselves being moved by these things. We commit ourselves to them. We create a relationship with them. We give them meaning and this meaning, in turn, becomes one of those significant factors by which we come to define ourselves.
Service is one of these things. It is real and powerful and recognisable – often by its absence – and as hard to describe accurately as any emotion.
Service has its purposes, of course. Done well, it creates significant personal and corporate outcomes. It is at the heart of customer satisfaction. (Actually, at it’s very best, it is the source of customer delight.) It increases significantly the likelihood of repeat business. It is a powerful corporate USP. It feeds the bottom line.
Everyone knows the importance of Service.
Many trumpet their commitment and ability to provide it brilliantly. For thirty minutes – the space between writing the last line and writing this one – I looked at twenty-four business websites at random. 90 per cent of them promised outstanding customer service. And yet research estimates that businesses in the UK lose £12 billion every year as a result of poor customer service and that inadequate service can cost brands as much as one fifth of their annual revenue.
This is not surprising when the People 1st’s 2010 State of the Nation report revealed that 65 per cent of businesses acknowledged that staff were lacking the necessary customer service skills.
It’s not surprising when the report, ‘Global Insights on Succeeding in the Customer Experience Era,’ revealed that whilst 93 percent of business executives said that improving customer experience was one of their top priorities in the next two years, 37 percent of companies were only just beginning to put formal customer experience initiatives in place, and a mere 20 percent considered their customer experience initiatives to be ‘advanced’.
If the legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough had chosen to seek out and report on exceptional Service instead of the world’s most rare wildlife, he would have made far fewer programmes.
The message is: Trust the research and not the website promises.
The question is: ‘If everyone knows the importance of Service, why are so few organisations or individuals providing it?’
Especially when research also reveals that, after receiving good service, 71% of customers will then recommend the business to others and 44% will use it more frequently.
The answer is two-fold. The first fold takes us back to Diego Masciaga, the Master, staring thoughtfully at the River Thames, searching for the right words with which to answer my question. It takes us back to the very nature of Service itself.
To Diego, Service is more than a corporate necessity. Service is firstly a calling, a cause, an emotional compulsion that cannot be refused. Whilst its existence might be dependent on appropriate systems and structures, whilst it might be revealed through the constant application of a variety of skills, Service is born out of an overwhelming desire, an insatiable need, to Serve.
For Diego Masciaga, Service matters because, he says finally, his gaze still fixed on the river, his words as much an affirmation to himself as they are an answer to me, ‘Serving is pleasing.’
For this man, only the third ever recipient of the Grand Prix de L’Art de la Salle, an award given by the International Academy of Gastronomy to those acknowledged as the greatest restaurant managers alive, it is as simple and as complex as that.
It is simple because, well, it is only a three-word answer and they are all everyday, non-technical words. It is complex because, as Diego makes clear through his explanation, his example and the behaviour and attitudes of his staff, Service is both a verb and a noun.
It is a verb because customer service is most obviously a process, an interaction that takes place between professionals and customers. Epiah Khan, the apocryphal Persian mystic, wrote, ‘Reality exists in the space between two people’. Whether that is true or not, we can say for certain that the reality of customer service is experienced within that space.
Service, the Diego Masciaga way, is the result of the skilled understanding of every individual customer and the on-going recognition of – and speedy response to - their ever-changing needs, combined with the application of technical skills and the management of environments and atmosphere. Service is produced by well-motivated, well-trained teams of staff, who understand and value the various outcomes that Service creates. Importantly, they also know that the most immediate outcome, that which exists in the space between people, determines to what extent the other outcomes are achieved. Simply put,
It leads to the very obvious financial profit achieved through increased business and to the very personal profit of joy in making others happy.
‘Service begins with a genuine smile,’ Diego says, unconsciously touching his heart as he speaks. ‘Staff must be happy to serve. They must be truly grateful for the opportunity to do so. If they provide exceptional Service they might even be rewarded twice. By their own sense of pleasure and by the customer’s gratitude.’
Interestingly, Diego also refers to this gratitude-fuelled process, these inevitably influential interactions, as a noun. He talks of Service as an entity that is at once there to be valued, worked for, longed for, whilst simultaneously being tantalisingly just out of reach in its most perfect form.
I write in my notes,
Diego Masciaga has committed himself to the service of Service. It is his life’s mission.
For its part, he tells me, Service rewards loyalty by demanding more. It repays commitment by offering glimpses of its perfect Self and encouraging – daring – you to come even closer. And if you have the courage, if you care enough, as Diego does, to accept the invitation that is really a challenge, perfect Service rewards your effort by waiting until you are almost within reach before moving away again.
There is always more of me, it seems to say. I am here to be strived for, never reached. I expect you to keep striving though, no matter what the personal. I expect you to make people happy. Always. With gratitude. Do you understand?
Diego Masciaga understands. I am getting my first insights. This is why it is easier to make promises on a website than to actually deliver exceptional customer care. Service is far more than a series of agreed responses or behaviours. It requires much more than technical knowledge or skill. It isn’t measured by a tick list.
If you don’t enjoy making people happy, if you are not grateful for the opportunity to create such wonderful experiences for others that they will live on and be shared as treasured memories, if the thought of doing that doesn’t spark a genuine smile on your face, then don’t bother with Service. Stay well away. For everyone’s sake. Service wants a full-on, heart-felt, non-stop relationship. Nothing less.
This leads us on to the second fold, the second reason why it is easier to promise great customer care than to actually provide it; the second reason why Diego Masciaga’s ability to deliver outstanding service is exceptional:
Service is a 24/7 commitment.
Diego smiles. Not the genuinely happy smile he offers guests, not a smile of welcome and gratitude. This is more layered than that, more introspective. This is a smile drawn by a lifetime of learning, by innumerable experiences. Diego looks away from the river for the first time in several minutes. He takes a sip of his espresso and then says, ‘It isn’t a job, it’s a life.’
Of course it is. At least it’s his life. Whether or not it is a life deliberately chosen or one shaped by an innate, irresistible instinct, I cannot say. Not yet. Right now Diego is keen to stress the intensity of the commitment required. The essence of success, he emphasises, lies not just in being able to create and provide outstanding service, but in providing it repeatedly, day after day, year after year.
‘Anyone can be great for a few days,’ he concludes quietly.
And so the second fold is reinforced. Like a world champion sportsman, the struggle to become the best is replaced by the even greater struggle to remain the best. Diego has been managing this struggle – staying at the top of the global customer service ladder – for nearly three decades.
Where does his stamina come from?
Then I realise that he has already told me. It comes from his commitment to the service of Service. When he says, ‘It isn’t a job, it’s a life,’ he actually means that, for him, it is a way of life.
 Businesses in the USA lose over $40 billion.
 Although he absolutely recognises its business value.
‘The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.’
Service is pleasing.
Pleasing leads to profit.
Copyright © Christopher Parker