posted 26 Oct 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 3
The Gurteen Perspective: TYFSAK! TYFSAK?
I’D LIKE to tell you a story about an incident that happened to me almost 15 years ago, when I was working in the
My colleague Eric and I were attending a meeting in
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until all became clear the following morning. Eric and I had breakfast together. Again, the waitress was friendly, just like all the other staff – but again, a little too friendly. She seemed to be merely acting the part, but nevertheless, we laughed and joked with her.
On her pinafore, she wore a large badge, on which was imprinted ‘5/10’. We remarked on it and jokingly asked if it meant 10 May or 5 October. Any of you familiar with the difference between the American and British way of representing dates will understand – in
Anyway, she told us what 5/10 really meant – and we were staggered by her answer. It was, she explained, to remind her and other staff that, when they passed within ten feet of a guest, they should smile. Within five feet, they should greet that guest with “Good morning””, “Have a nice day”, or whatever other greeting was appropriate to the occasion.
Well, needless to say, we had a good laugh about that. And as we left the restaurant a little later, the receptionist at the door turned to us, smiled and said, “Have a nice day.”
Eric, being quite a wit, looked at her, instantly gauged the distance between us, and replied: “We’re more than five feet away, a smile would have been sufficient!”
Damn it – the staff was being forced to feign friendlinaess by this silly measure! And it showed through.
Around the same time, I read of a similar story where checkout staff at Kmart each had a card on their till with the letters “TYFSAK” printed on it. When a customer checked out and was leaving, the checkout person would actually say “T-Y-F-S-A-K” – that is, they would actually call out the letters very quickly – much to the bemusement of the customer.
Can you figure out what was going on? Yes, you’ve got it! “T-Y-F-S-A-K” stands for “Thank you for shopping at Kmart”. The staff were supposed to say the whole phrase and the card was there to remind them. But their heart wasn’t really in it and it took time, hence the rattled-off phrase: “T-Y-F-S-A-K”.
And so, in recent years, when I read all the stories of how ‘measures’ and ‘targets’ have distorted the work going on in the UK’s National Health Service, these two stories return to mind and I slowly shake my head.
You can’t force people to behave differently by imposing mechanical disciplines on them – it just does not work. Inevitably, it will show through and they will find ways, conscious or otherwise, to circumvent them.
If you want people to provide better customer service, then they need to understand the reasons and the importance of doing just that and find their motivation intrinsically.