What Aristotle can teach us about Service Quality

June 6th, 2016

The early quality movement from the 1940s adopted manufacturing process control techniques enabling consistent, reliable, standardised output. Great benefits are derived from that approach and with the shift towards service industries effort has been made to achieve similar benefits by ‘doing quality’ in services.
Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of some (in particular John Oakland and John Seddon), the fruits of this have been largely dismal. Peter Dudley and I wrote that this is because organisations and their consultants have attempted to deploy knowledge, tools and techniques developed for manufacturing rather than understand the critical differences in services and develop new knowledge, tools and techniques.
At 7am I walked from my hotel to the nearest supermarket to buy a newspaper. The self-service till demanded that I either buy a bag or place my own on the scales (who needs a bag for a newspaper), there wasn’t a ‘no bag required’ option. Being process compliant, I duly placed my lap top bag (5 kg with assorted chargers and cables!) on the scales at which point the till panicked (bag too heavy) and called for a member of staff. Now the point of self-service tills is that the supermarket can reduce the numbers of staff by outsourcing the work to the customers. Presented as a convenience, the self-service till is in truth a blatant attempt to cut costs.
After a 2 minute wait a member of staff ambled round the corner and immediately paid attention to the person stood at the next till (who had just arrived), not bothering to find out who should be served first.
I placed the necessary money on the till, called to the member of staff that I had done so and left. In this instance not only did the mechatronic process fail (the lack of a ‘no bag’ option) but the human interaction failed (‘Good morning, now who was first?’).
While the ‘process’ was complete (I successfully bought a newspaper) the ‘service’ was non-existent. The message that supermarket conveyed most effectively was that it does not care about its customers. The process it has in place to enable customer self-service failed at the first hurdle; the need to provide a member of staff when required failed because the particular member of staff either did not care who should be served first, or more probably, had not been trained to find out.
As I walked away, I could only imagine the staff member saying to the other customer, ‘what a rude man’.
The following day I read the news on my smartphone.
The supermarket attempted to improve consistency and reliability AND reduce cost by implementing an automated processing system to reduce their transaction costs. I wonder how many such cheap transactions are no longer happening because they have forgotten that ‘service’ is the core of the service industry and the customers think ‘well, if they can’t be bothered then neither can I’ and are either not shopping at all, are shopping elsewhere, or are sourcing the service on line where they have no real expectation of ‘service’.
Aristotle wrote of the rhetorical triangle and, as he is no longer in a position to object, I am going to take liberties with it!
The first corner is ‘logos’ the appeal to reason, here the supermarket scores. It has provided a rational means (a process) by which the customer can achieve the desired outcome at the lowest immediate cost to the supermarket.
The second corner is ‘pathos’ the sense of fairness and trustworthiness. Here the supermarket fails, it has created a system which is tilted to its own advantage and, worse, presented it as an advantage to the customer. This comes across as greed.
The third corner is ‘ethos’, the manner of delivery of the service. When ‘logos’ or ‘pathos’ fail, ‘ethos’ can come to the rescue. In this case ‘ethos’ just exacerbated the fundamental failure to understand service reflected in the automation project.
One out of three is not good enough for survival!