The Big Read: You want world-class service delivery? Just order a pizza
The other day I stumbled into the new Domino's Pizza in the neighbourhood and a booming voice came across the loudspeaker system with a singing crescendo: "Customer in the lane!" For a moment I was disoriented, thinking someone had transported me into another galaxy where they really meant things like Batho Pele or "the customer always comes first".
As I recovered from the shock of the bold and generous greeting I asked the smiling face behind the counter -"Am I still in South Africa?" The smiling face just kept smiling as I ordered my all-time favourite pizza from student days in another country - pepperoni, thick base.
Then the next shock - on the bright and welcoming electronic display board you were informed of the passage of the pizza for almost every minute that passed - order placed, prep, baked, quality check... By the time you paid and double-counted your change, out popped the pizza and you were good to go, as they say in Domino's originating country. This was another world and so I tested the online model. Just like that you ordered, paid and were taken through the stages of delight online with the same kind of precision a Kübler-Ross fan might experience the different stages of grief. Except this was pleasant.
"Tick," went the cellphone and there was the Domino's Pizza Delivery Notification saying that at precisely 1.21pm "Nathabeleng Ramaele left with your order". I was still staring at what the kids call "oversharing" in the text message when the doorbell rang and there, with her scooter backed into the driveway, out came a piping hot pepperoni in the hands of a perfectly groomed Nathabeleng looking sharp in her red-and-blue outfit. I slapped myself a few times - did I doze off into a deep sleep and land on planet Mars in an Elon Musk rocket? This was weird.
Nope, they're not done with you, these suddenly super-efficient South Africans. Just as you swallowed the last of your delicious pizza another text came through, a real-time evaluation form. "Rate your Domino's Pizza experience. How likely are you to recommend us to friends or family?" Extremely likely. In fact I'd go one better, and share it with The Times readers, like right now, for example.
For those who think terrible service is in our blood, think again. Yet what do these overseas franchises do that change a typically lacklustre, lazy and lugubrious service culture into this world-class service delivery machine? I suspect they select the best people for the job with their supposed maxim, "Hire for attitude, train for skills". Then they induct their young workers into the culture of the organisation - standard uniform, clean environment, customer first. They train them well, matching passion with competence. They provide simple incentives to excel, such as the 30-minute free delivery guarantee. They place these workers in a brightly lit, computerised environment where even the passage of your pizza on the electronic board holds the workers to account. Everybody is moving all the time, not a minute wasted.
There is nothing wrong with our people. There is everything wrong with how we treat them. So whether it is the delivery of water in Senekal or the removal of garbage in Soweto or the picking up of a service telephone in Swartruggens, it all comes down to how we select our employees and what we do with them once on the job. In a drab office building with poor leadership models, accidental training, dysfunctional copy machines and no incentives, we should not expect much from those who serve us.
It's going to get much better as Burger King, Domino's Pizza and the coming Dunkin Donuts begin to replace the inefficient, lumbering corner shops who took you for granted for all these years. Those old, tired-looking local outlets are either going to up their game and outcompete these newcomers or they will simply peter out of existence. In the process these visiting companies might very well begin to have an impact on our service cultures and produce a new generation of optimistic workers whose sense of the customer changes our very expectations of ourselves.
Now if only there was a public service equivalent of these fast-food franchises - like one to take over the postal services or Home Affairs, and one to run the department of education in the Eastern Cape.