Do you ever pause to consider what keeps you going back for more? Why you stick to the same three hotels in Munich, New York and Paris for business and the same little property in Liguria for your summer pleasures? Is it the location? The quality of the bed linen? Or the outstanding food? What about cities or countries? Is it an unbeatable combination of architecture, weather and nice locals that makes Melbourne more alluring than Auckland? Or is it a seamless infrastructure and a sound head for business that helps a city seduce?
Over the past few months, while darting around Asia and Europe, I started asking myself this question every time I settled in for a return flight home or pulled away from a rail station. What’s going to bring me back? While any destination that might have offered better weather than London could have been a contender, the winner would be a city or entire nation that also delivered outstanding service.
We might like the beds at a favourite hotel or the wine list at a frequented restaurant but it’s unlikely either would be much loved if the service was shabby or they failed to recognise you after a few visits. So it’s a bit surprising how few tourism ministries or inward investment agencies put an emphasis on service.
As you’ve noticed (I hope), the concept of soft power is the loose theme of our current issue and from Berlin to Amman we’ve shown how nations big and small, at the centre or on the margins, are using everything from sport to song to cuisine to gain influence and alter perceptions. Curiously, none are using service to win friends, attract investment or help their neighbours. For all the talk about service and knowledge-based economies, no government has set an agenda that has allowed it to gain recognition for being good at being good to people. It’s a role that’s up for the taking – though perhaps not all need apply.
While many nations have a strong service streak (Thailand, Japan, Switzerland on a sunny day and certain parts of Germany come to mind) and others have attempted to build clusters, hubs and whole sectors around service (India and South Africa), no one’s attempted to go the whole way and bolster their national brand through a sustained campaign based around courtesy, punctuality, cleanliness, good manners and being the consummate host.
Many foreign ministries in First World capitals think this is territory for emerging economies but they might want to think again. Consider the Nordic region. While its culture of do-it-yourself and “we’re all wonderfully equal” has made many a Finn and Swede self-sufficient, it’s also created societies where there is a lack of basic services that are common in other developed economies.
As manufacturing continues to move east and the tech boom(s) have already seen many an entrepreneur move both south and west, ministers and economists in Helsinki and Stockholm might want to rethink what they have to offer the world. Multilingual, well-educated and generally well-travelled nationals give the Nordics a sound base to build from and develop schools to rival Cornell, hotel groups to take on the best from Asia and consumer banks that are benchmarks for the financial sector. From a public diplomacy perspective, becoming recognised as a nation that excels at being both efficient and deliriously nice to people is an attractive combo. Canada, Australia, Ireland and Austria could all do with tossing their hat in the ring too.
And while we’re on the topic of service, some good news from Monocle. For subscribers who’ve had to endure less than outstanding service when changing address or renewing their order, there are a few changes in development. Having outsourced this part of our business since launch, we’ve decided to take everything back in-house as we want to ensure that we can offer a better level of service and rethink the way readers interact with us. While you’ve been enjoying your summer (or toiling away in the southern hemisphere) we’ve been laying the foundations for a new area of our business that we’ll be unveiling before Christmas. We’ve also been building the audio part of the editorial mix and the coming months will see a series of new programmes. In the meantime, join us for our Sunday show, The Monocle Weekly.
We’re all back at base now, so if you have any queries or comments, then drop me a note at email@example.com.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.