I was fortunate enough to get a chance to be in the service industry for just a few years. They were very short but sweet years. In fact I was among the group that established the first South African franchises Steers and Debonairs in Uganda. Those were fast food chains that brought such a hype to a dormant food market in Uganda. Just a few days to Christmas in 1999, we opened shop.
The journey of putting up such a state of art shop with Franchise standards had its own gigantic challenges, but one of the hardest tasks was about to begin, training the staff to serve with a smile.
Having been in Uganda for a few years before this opening, it came as no surprise to me that the very shy young ladies we employed, could not respond so quickly to the training of our South African coach who gave them a crash course in serving with a smile.
Within a few weeks, most of my team who had grasped this concept, were hand-picked from our shop by others and given employment elsewhere, of course with better a package. Though I used this example in my weekly training and review with the rest of the staff, the challenge remained obvious.
A few years later, the business was sold to another company and my relationship with this industry came to an end, but the training stuck in my mind and I could no longer be indifferent to the level of service in any joint I visited after that.
In fact if you enter in any restaurant or hotel, that first facial reception is so crucial ,and it almost sets the mood for how the rest of the time will pass. From my experience in East Africa, I found out that exposure has a big role in breaking that ice between the receptionist/cashier and the client.
So Kenyans who receive bigger numbers of tourists than Ugandans and Tanzanians seem to have mastered that art. This was proven to me when I once participated in an interview that one of my friends in Kenya was conducting in search of a receptionist for their hotel. My friend had so many good choices that instead of a short list, a much longer one was established.
However, when my team learned how to serve customers with a smile, they were very genuine and I loved it. I often remember my first visit to the United States and how everyone welcomed us in the hotel with a big smile. It was even followed by this question. and how are you doing today? When I attempted to reply, the person who asked the question was long gone.
It is equally hard to find South Africans who smile while serving, but when I met one who had a beautiful smile, I took her photo, her name was Shireen, which in Persian means: sweet!