Service teams constantly ask themselves what they can do to go the extra mile. In hospitality, we use the saying quite liberally even though the true meaning of it may not be known to some members of our multi cultural, multi national and multi lingual teams. When I think about it and reflect upon my own experience, going the extra mile in some instances, if not all, could mean breaking the rules. Say, for example, if it is a hospitality setting, deviating from standard operating procedures.
Let me recount two instances where I genuinely felt that the service people involved had gone the extra mile for me. In the first instance, during a visit to Nuwaraeliya Srilanka, we were so tired from the vertigo induced by the long uphill climb that we fell asleep just before sunset and woke up around 10 in the evening. We were starved and wanted something to eat. We stayed at a cozy heritage property called Ceybank Rest and by that time in the evening, the only restaurant at the property was closed. In Nuwaraeliya, the entire town sleeps around 9 and there were no shops or restaurants open. Luckily for us, the gentleman at the reception told us that the coffee shop at the Grand Hotel could be open. He said we could just walk as it was a few minutes away. When I told him I would not be able to find it myself, he volunteered to walk with us. He showed us to the gate and we went in only to find out that they only served in-house guests after 10. As we returned to the gate in dismay, our guy saw us coming out and walked back to the gate. I told him what happened and he went in, spoke to the reception and waved us in. He convinced the reception and restaurant staff at the Grand Hotel to serve us even though we were not staying there. The point I want to highlight here is that the person who helped us had no obligations towards us. He broke the protocol by abandoning the reception desk in order to hep us.
In the next incident, we went to an eye hospital in Bangalore and when we told we were foreigners, one of the receptionists took us to the second floor and showed us the international desk. Sadly, the lady at the international desk reprimanded the receptionist and told him that his duty was to “tell” us to find the international desk, not to “show us” or accompany us. Clearly, the receptionist who took us there intended to help because we were new and we had blank looks when he told us to go to the international desk.
I recently listened to a talk by Professor Amy Wrzesniewski of Yale University who made me realise that it is a special breed of people who go the extra mile at work. She tells the story of the cleaning crew at the University Hospital and a research she conducted with two of her colleagues in order to understand the purpose and meaning of work for the cleaning crew. One group, according to her, came up with some standard answers – cleaning was a boring, repetitive task. To them, it was not satisfying or required any skills. When asked to describe the tasks involved, they just listed out what is in the job description. There is however, another group of people who thought the complete opposite! They enjoyed the work, they found it deeply meaningful and they also thought of the work they as being very highly skilled. When asked what their job involved, they talked about identifying patients who appeared to be sad and lonely and coming back to see if they would like to have a conversation. Some talked about helping elderly patients, walking them to their cars. Someone also mentioned changing, moving around the paintings in the rooms of the terminally ill thinking the change will somehow benefit the patient. Obviously, none of these things are part of their job description and they could even get in trouble for doing these things if HR finds out but it somehow gave their work more meaning and purpose.
People go the extra mile when they connect with another human being at an emotional level and use their judgement to deliver what the customer wants in that particular instance especially when it is not expected of him/her. This may be the reason why customers rate Nordstrom so highly for their exemplary service culture where every is told to use their best judgement at all times instead of sticking to an artificial script. Artificial scripting and standardising can help organisations become consistent with their standards but true extra miles result when service personnel are given the space to decide what is right for the moment. Emotional intelligence of course is an essential prerequisite for anyone who wants to deliver extra value and go beyond what is expected of him/her.