Friday, May 27, 2011

European Design Leadership Board

Congratulations to all involved in creating the European Design Leadership Board under the European Design Initiative - itself an action within the framework of the European Commission's Innovation Union. The Design Leadership Board meets today for the first time in Helsinki.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pondering on service - hotels and hospitals

Enjoying a breakfast at the Hotel du Vin in Harrogate. Train back to London at 11:14.

It intrigues me the extent to which the brand of Hotel du Vin is consistently able to flex to the various moods of the day. It seems perfect for breakfast as well as for afternoon cocktails or a full blown dinner. Whether it is dark or light. The spaces assume the meaning we want to project onto them. Breakfast is up-market bistro with a hint of luxury and the service is excellent and service is by far the greatest marker of 'luxury', assuming one is also on the starting blocks of the material qualities.

The subtle hint of the Luberon outside somehow evoked by the interior aesthetic; the rich solid wooden floors pressed down by the gently faded antique - effect walls with beading and panelling to match - and the understated but excellent breakfast – in my case comprising fruit compote and fresh fruit salad followed by a very tasty Yorkshire-sourced full breakfast washed down with earl grey and a raspberry smoothie – all work together to create an aristocratic ambience absolutely without the implications of a class system behind it. A class system of ingrained superiority and arrogance. This is of course a selective place (with prices to match) but it is not arrogant. Nor is it bling. Perhaps it offers more of an open aristocracy of quality (albeit with the antique-effect walls). Customer focused with intelligent and carefully balanced interiors and efficient,friendly service of high quality. All of this makes for a great experience.

And an experience is both momentary and long-living. A single bad experience can dis-ease a brand in the mind of a customer.

A friend recently went to a top-brand clothing shop, (also in Harrogate), with her new partner to buy some clothes for him. Everything was perfect, except that the young sales person was condescending in response to her partner’s query about a particular garment. How sensitive our perception of a brand’s value really is. How affected it can be by our experience of it ‘on the floor’. My friend heartily declared to me that the staff member was rude and that she has no interest in ever stepping into the shop again. The potential of a lifetime of loyalty damaged by an inexperienced comment pitched in an unfortunate (and unprofessional) manner in but a matter of seconds.

To be of service is not to be servile. The idea of service in the UK (rooted in the antecedents of a class system – upstairs/downstairs) is not the same as in other parts of Europe. To be of service is a high-level, high-quality, highly-nuanced and caring activity. To be of service is not to be a servant.

A close uncle spent his final weeks dying from double cancer in his early eighties in a respite hospital for the terminally ill. On my last visit to see him alive but a few weeks ago, he told me,” The nurses come and make my bed and it is as if I am not there. Michael”, he said, “I feel like an object”.

This is not service. This is dis-service. And that too is a dis-ease.

Does a respite hospital have a responsibility to pay attention to the quality of service at the deepest level? I believe it does. I believe the experience should meet the promise. And there always is a promise – whether it is explicitly stated or not. (As Erik Spiekermann likes to quote – ‘you cannot not communicate’).

Many hospitals have not had time to step back and think through what they are and what they do from the point of view of the promise and actuality of the experience that their patients have no choice but to live (or die) through. Down to the finest detail of interaction. As for the Hotel-du-vin this is a high-order task demanding a different mind-set and great attention to the experience to be delivered.

Perhaps a hospital could learn from a Hotel. Good service is not expensive. It is subtle and complex. Offering caring attention to the human needs of those we provide service for is not rocket science. Although it is a specialist skill that needs to be voiced, described, understood and imparted to those who enjoy that responsibility within the organisational culture. It needs to be thought about and cared for.

And not surprisingly, this has a double effect for both parties involved in the service interaction. It is rewarding. It brings satisfaction at more than a mechanistic or profit-oriented level. To paraphrase Shakespeare:
“The quality of service is not strained; It is twice blessed- It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.”

And that, in turn, is motivating for staff and customers alike.

My breakfast has finished now, but not the memory or the feeling that I would like to return again to this experience. I am lucky to have been here and I am grateful for it. And I want to come back.

RIP Uncle David.