Observation - Issue 90 - Magazine | Monocle

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Two or three months ago you might have joined a meeting that involved you chipping in on key ambitions for your company or organisation for the coming year. It might have involved someone with spreadsheets and full control of the projector taking you through forecasts for quarters one through three. There were undoubtedly voices around the table that were been demanding more funds for extra staff in the Lima office and cuts to your set-up in Cairo. Perhaps a consultant joined halfway through the session to talk about how everything in your operation should be more streamlined, seamless and fully iPad-enabled; in short, less human.

On a recent swing through the South Pacific I visited an airline that had clearly had such a powwow and decided that it would take as many staff as possible out of the meeting-and-greeting equation. While its building was impressive enough and everything felt suitably on brand, all the positive first impressions soon melted away when a rather grumpy receptionist (a flight attendant reassigned to desk duties as she was on early maternity leave) pointed to a clapped-out Dell computer fixed to the end of a cantilevered reception desk and told us to register. “Can we just enter one name?” my colleague asked. “No, you all have to enter your details and then wait for someone to come down.” That was the end of the discussion.

As we were calling upon an international carrier that likes to talk up service and we were paying a visit to the CEO, it all seemed rather removed from the story that it wants potential passengers to buy into. After a short while we were pointed in the general direction of the lifts and told to go up a few floors, where we’d be greeted. So much for a sense of arrival or attempting to “live the brand”.

Just before we broke for the holidays another group of colleagues went to meet the marketing team of a major hotel group and returned stunned (and parched) by the complete lack of hospitality. “Imagine going to meet with a five-star hotel group where all the ‘innovation team’ show up with their own beverages but never bother to offer a coffee or water to their guests. Quite remarkable!” This was the headline of my fellow staffer leading the troop.

Many companies and countries go out of their way to constantly update their websites and ensure their digital footprint is dazzling and sharp. But it all tallies up to a lot of smoke and mirrors if you visit an embassy, shop or HQ and there are cigarette butts fluttering around the revolving door or the glass façade hasn’t been touched by suds and a squeegee since it was built. Create a positive first impression, look after people as if you were welcoming them into your home and send them off with a rewarding set of experiences; there’s a good chance you’ll not only set the stage to seal the deal but also set in motion a ripple effect that will get those visitors talking up your organisation on your behalf.

Of course, it’s very easy to cut down on the cleaning bill, reduce the biscuit budget and attempt to create a self-serve culture for guests but all of this comes with its own set of costs further down the track. At MONOCLE we spend a considerable amount of time on the road and paying attention to these things; those in search of a few benchmarks might want to turn their attention to German meeting rooms as a good example of how things should be done.

Whether you’re in Hamburg or Karlsruhe, Frankfurt or Bremen, German corporate hospitality almost always involves a large meeting table laid out with a chrome coffee pot, a matching pitcher of hot water, a selection of chilled waters (still, sparkling and semi-sparkling), apple juice, orange juice, Fanta and Coke. Alongside there will be a tray of biscuits. Your meeting will start at the specified hour and your hosts will waste no time getting to the point rather than making too much small talk about matters none of you are particularly concerned with.

In Hong Kong you’ll always have a tea lady who’ll offer you a glass of hot water (no thanks, it’s 36c outside today); in Milan a good host will always send out for a tray of coffee from their local café; and the Finns and Swedes will always do a good spread for a meeting around lunchtime. If you’re easing into 2016 thinking you’ve got most bases covered, perhaps cast a critical eye over your staff and the elements responsible for first impressions to see if there’s room for improvement. While we’re being told that the more you remove people from the service equation the less risk you have of mishaps, it also means fewer points of differentiation and no opportunity for the serendipity that occurs when people chat, share stories and swap ideas.

As ever, we’re here for all your queries, story tips and feedback. Wishing you all the best for 2016; thank you for your support.

For more from our editor in chief, read his column in the ‘FT Weekend’.

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