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Bridging the service gap: Thai hospitality and the knowledge economy

Bridging the service gap: Thai hospitality and the knowledge economy

If analysts and economists are right, we have entered a new era of economic development that relies on knowledge as its core ressource. This shift has many implications, one of which is that the products of tomorrow will be packed with a lot more intelligence, a lot more design, and perhaps, more consideration for the cyclical nature of the products we consume. 


Another reading of the data also reveals a translation, from the primary activities of agriculture and resource exploitation, to secondary fabrication and manufacturing, to the tertiary service industries. This constant upscaling of our focus towards a less capital and more knowledge-intensive systems means that individuals, and their relationships to one another, will be a prevalent factor in the success of our economies. 


Cities and objects


Speaking at Creative Bangkok, professor Karndee Leopairote asks that we focus not only on the creative industries, but on the creative economy as a whole. A policy expert, Dr. Karndee evokes the "beautiful chaos" of Bangkok, and takes a service approach to the smart city: "Bangkok is a city of 12M that was planned for 5M", she says. The notion of service thus becomes essential to smoothing the relationships between individuals, institutions and infrastructure, in terms of public policy in the field of urban design. 


Very few countries can compare to Thailand when it comes to service and hospitality. Among the leaders, Singapore may be a valid incumbent. A Swede author, Fredrik Haren has elected the Southeastern island as his new home. 


Author of The Idea Book, Haren is a world traveler that knows a thing or two about service. He takes a few stabs at the systems and cultures that seem unable to take user experience to the next level. "For a long time", he says, "Amsterdam's Schiphol airport was one of the best in the world. The guys from Changi airport came to observe, analyse and brought back what would make for a 21st century airport. Today, Singapore has overtaken Schiphol by a landslide. And what are the Dutch doing? Nothing." 


Haren still flies through Amsterdam, and every time, tries to contribute ideas for improvement. But the system is broken. The airport is not listening. In fact, in the majority of European and North American countries, we have completely lost the ability to listen. Empathy may be a sexy word, it is not applied, nor understood. 


When it comes to service, complacency, routine and optimization have taken over the willingness for improvement. Managers look at their biased dashboards and take pride in "satisfaction rates" in the higher 90s.


When 97% of your customers say your service is outstanding, they're probably lying. Or the question is not formulated correctly. Or you're in Cuba. 


Caring and the culture of helping


Though the air travel industry does not leave us short of examples of terrible service design (management scholar Henry Mintzberg even wrote a short essay — Why I Hate Flying), the domination of Thailand's service industry goes much further.


A brief overview of the co-creation and service design orientation at the Bumrungrad international Hospital is revealing. Equipped with a "cultural sensitivity office", Bumrungad has referral offices in 16 countries. Operating at approximately 1/10th of the cost of American hospitals, it is withheld to standards equivalent or higher than its occidental counterparts. It is interesting to note that, in parallel, some of the work done in the "Fabrique de l'Hospitalité" — a French living lab dedicated to the exploration of hospitality in healthcare — is much in line with Bumrungad Hospital's thinking.


Alas, hospitality is also something that most of us do on a daily basis. We hold meetings, we welcome friends at home. Taxi and bus drivers and pilots drive others. And throughout these trajectories, we often end up at restaurants.


At Creative Bangkok, a food aficionado from Australia, followed by chefs from Australia and France, and an American mixologist, set the stage on these notions. The latter, Joseph Boroski, made a valid point: "We don't sell drinks or food; what we sell is guest experience". From the time you make your reservation, to when you arrive at the venue, are welcomed by staff and make your choice (Boroski, for instance, has no menu), experience is an all-encompassing notion. 



We are moving towards a knowledge economy, that much we know. And while most are working to move out from a culture of mass production, top-down management and one-size-fits-all solutions, emerging countries' organizations are finding creative solutions from the get go. They embed service design and hospitality into their organizational DNA. 


The creative stage is set : more social, more meetings, more humans, coming up with more sophisticated concepts, to produce functional solutions, in a context of beautiful chaos… in that new theatre, one of empathy, service design and hospitality, Thailand is set to take a bigger role, fast. 


Image: Jeremy Joncheray. 

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