Tourism Strategy: Time to develop a South African approach to Service Excellence

By donleffler, 19 July, 2010

Extract from Tourism Update Online publication: 20 Tue, Jul 2010

Service excellence in South Africa is notoriously inconsistent and, to date, initiatives to bolster service levels have been widely criticised by the industry. For these reasons, the proposed National Tourism Sector Strategy has identified service excellence as one of its key focus areas.

According to the strategy, poor service levels are a result of poor leadership. It states, “Frontline staff are not inspired to deliver great service and are not treated with respect or given accountability to deliver an experience.”

Proposed actions in the strategy include conducting research to gain an understanding of service levels, the development of service skills and attitude, the creation of public awareness of world-class service standards, the development of a tourism consumer feedback system and the implementation of a ‘know your customer’ campaign focusing on language and culture for key markets.

The strategy explains that the direness of the state of SA’s service industry was highlighted during a visit by the Disney Institute to research the levels of service excellence in SA in September and October last year. The findings showed that SA’s customer service was “abysmal to poor”. Don Leffler, Director of The Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Business School (THSBS), says no one was surprised with this finding as many South Africans experience poor service on a regular basis.

Following this, in 2010, the Disney Institute held the Tourism Service Excellence Initiative, a series of national seminars, just weeks before the World Cup. Leffler says the process was severely criticised. “It cost millions of rands, was supposed to reach 250 000 people but was only attended by about 7 000,” he says. “The content was ‘Americanised’ and not well received.”

He adds that whilst there is an acknowledgement of a real need for training to create a culture of service excellence, insufficient attention has been given to supporting a consistently high standard of relevant effective training and reinforcement. “Furthermore we need to create and recognise champions of service excellence to create role models who consistently set the bar higher.”

Leffler also believes SA should look internally to build success stories rather than look to America’s Disney Institute. “South Africa is known for its warm, friendly, smiling people and for the traditional Ubuntu philosophy,” he says. “These are strengths and we should build on these in a South African context but with world standards of excellence. Service excellence training programmes such as SA Host and the Wozani Warriors programme are an excellent foundation and we should build on these rather than re-inventing the wheel and trying to apply overseas cultures to our own unique circumstances.”

Dawn Harrison, a soft skills training expert and an independent Facilitiator for THSBS agrees and says that the nationwide ‘high’ of successfully hosting the Soccer World Cup should be leveraged to promote service excellence. “We do not want to hear from the US, China, Japan or the European countries on how they have achieved a culture of service. We need to write our own story and it is my firm conviction that the time has never been more presentable than now.”

“We need to be talking and walking the walk by brainstorming ideas which are uniquely South African,” Harrison says. “Enthusiasm and passion are contagious so we need to be talking with key stakeholders and coming up with plans, ideas and strategies to deliver a proudly South African culture of service.”

Lisa Gordon-Davis, Managing Director of Kundiza Training and Consulting, says another reason why service levels are as low as they are is that South Africans are generally not service conscious and are used to receiving poor service. “They therefore do not expect or deliver good service as they just don’t understand it,” she says. “The inability to provide consistently good service levels is exacerbated by issues which include this general lack of service culture in our country, inadequate job training, a lack of urgency and an imbalanced focus on technical job skills as opposed to interpersonal ‘customer and people’ skills development.”

Gordon-Davis believes that government has a major role to play in upping service levels countrywide. She says, “Government should lead by example. It should link to the Batho Pele campaign and get government officials and agencies at all levels to start treating their own customers with respect, efficiency and speed. Only once South Africans get used to good service will they start to recognise it, demand it and, in turn, deliver it.”

What do you think? Send your comments to the National Department of Tourism at [email protected] well ahead of the July 31 deadline. The countdown is on with only 12 days left to comment - don't miss the opportunity to make your voice heard.

Article written by Sue Lewitton



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