Being served well, and serviced good and hard

There's nothing like international travel to contrast business models. With the scars of a recent trip fresh in my mind, and a swathe of interactions across the whole spectrum of government - private - individual - corporate entities, I thought I'd jot down a guide to those most recently encountered that stood out.

The minimum wage hospitality employee: in this case, a hotel maid. Huge competition for her job and a "flexible" labour market meaning that she'd better keep on her toes or be out on her ear. Wage probably close to minimum wage, but supplemented by significant tips. On the downside, she seldom meets the guest so the guest will tip on a combination of the standard of the maid's work, the guest's ignorance of the local tipping system and their tightfistedness. Will always say hello and smile at passing guests because that makes a personal connection and makes the guest more likely to up their tip or feel bad at not tipping. Lives or dies by the standard of her cleaning and the rate of room completion, with the hotel owner specifying the balance. Probably has an OK healthcare plan if the hotel is part of a chain, so very keen not to lose it. All the cleaning I've seen has been impeccable, and I hope I tip well. Hours probably rota'd and (in the case of a large hotel) can probably get all the hours she wants as long as she delivers. Aspires to position such as housekeeping manager but that is likely many years in the future and she's going to have to take on college-educated locals and battle them using her hard-won experience. Day-dreams of being sexually assaulted by the head of an international finance body and making him pay through the nose for his sins.  

The professional hospitality employee: in this case the previously blogged Amy the hotel bartender. Very visible public role serving both hotel guests and passing visitors. Reasonable salary and corporate benefits, roughly increasing with the size of employer and status of the hotel. Still gets significant income from tips (I did the math from sitting in the hotel bar for an hour blogging, and estimate she could easily clear $50/hour when it's moderately busy). Performance assessed by bar income and customer feedback, the latter of which is fairly nebulous. Substantial diplomatic skills required to survive and prosper, notably the ability to manage drunken guests with an over-inflated sense of self-importance. Has to have great people skills to survive and prosper, managing and balancing guests' wants with employer requirements and targets. Hours fairly anti-social as they are inherently the opposite to normal working hours. Dominant income influences are the ability to anticipate guests' wants and to build relationships with long-term and frequently-visiting guests. Probably aspires to hospitality manager if she's willing to make the hours/pay tradeoff. Day-dreams of the bladdered corporate finance team ordering a couple of magnums of the '65 Bollinger and tipping 40%.

The private entrepreneur: in this case, an airport car driver. He gets his business from your firm, but only on a very loose arrangement; winds change, corporate travel budgets are cut, an influx of new car drivers and suddenly his income can halve or go away entirely. You're not paying him personally unless you give him a tip, which with corporate-organised cars isn't too likely. He doesn't want to give you a bad experience because you might report him and bang goes his contract; on the other hand, there's no personal repeat business so he's not going to go out of his way to be friends. Time is money, so if you want to get to the airport as soon as humanly possible then your interests and his are near-perfectly aligned. Prepare for a heart-pumping journey of swerves, acceleration and sudden braking. The only limit is his personal assessment of the likelihood of a crash - that would severely dent his income - so you have to hope he's not over-confident in his abilities. No real employer so lives day-to-day, will drive even if he's so sick he can barely see. Day-dreams of the frantic corporate executive hailing him outside La Guardia and instructing him "Get me to Chicago O'Hare before 6am and there's a $1000 bonus for you".

The corporate crew: in this case, the international airline's check-in staff. Usually measured by the most abstract or obtuse appraisal scheme that their HR department can dream up, and actual customer satisfaction will barely tweak the needle of their personal cost/benefit meters. They are likely to be efficient and well-trained in corporate procedures, and so a customer who knows the system can usually leverage this; customers with significant status in the corporate loyalty scheme tend to do OK. Somewhat vulnerable to the it's-half-an-hour-to-hometime dip in service level. Often unionised in the USA, so seniority is more likely to go with time served than actual ability, and performance-related compensation to be fairly limited. If you get exceptional service it's down to sheer luck or the ability to connect personally to the clerk in question, though actually poor service is rare. Reasonable health plan and sickness benefits. Day-dreams of being on the other side of the counter on the way to Honolulu, first class.

The public sector entity: in this case, the TSA (motto: BOHICA). Almost no actual security threat to guard against, so they can apply security theatre to their heart's content. Customers, in this case better described as victims, have no option to avoid them or go to a competing firm. Very effective sanctions can be applied against troublesome customers. Anyone with the sense that the good Lord gave gravel will shut up, remove their shoes and do as they are told. The main performance measure is throughput - if enough people miss their planes the airlines will complain - so as long as they speed up at peak times they can take all the time in the world when it's quieter. The only likely form of personal interaction is to chat up a good looking customer of the appropriate gender, who will smile politely and not make trouble for the reasons detailed above. A byword for customer service - specifically, "if you provide customer service like the TSA, you'd better be running a government-backed monopoly or you'll be bankrupt in a week". Unionised Government employment conditions; salary probably not high but good pension and benefits promised. Near-impossible to fire short of actually groping a passenger - and even then it's probably 50-50. Day-dreams of retiring at 45 with a "bad back" on full retirement pay.

Private enterprise: in this case a small and moderately expensive restaurant in the airport concourse. Substantial fixed overheads, a huge potential customer base, brisk competition and (I suspect) a significant fraction of repeat customers. Live and die by the combination of customer service, appearance of the premises and the food / drink on offer. Not much that the restaurant can vary about the latter two, which is what initially gets the customer in the door. They therefore aim to hire staff with the targets of getting customers to spend more than they otherwise might and to encourage repeat business (I would say successfully in both). Aided by being just beyond the TSA security checkpoint, so a greater contrast in service would be hard to produce. Tips are a significant proportion of staff income so staff focus a lot of effort on customer service, up to and including flirting with the customers. Employer benefits pretty variable but at least an OK healthcare plan so keen to keep the job. A fair amount of competition for their jobs and so they need to ensure their employer sees them delivering revenue, filling in when the premises are under-staffed and not calling in sick. Day-dreams of running their own exclusive little bistro downtown.

I'm not condemning or condoning - I'm just reporting.

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