My Name is Benjamin Ross, and I’m a motivational speaker. I’m 27 years old, and I work in a barbershop down by the Min River!
Two weeks ago I had my first chance to attend a Chinese motivational work meeting. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would get the chance to speak at one.
Last night before clean up time, Mr. Zheng asked me to step outside the shop with him.
“Ben, we are going to have our end of the month meeting tomorrow evening. I want you to give a speech,” he told me with a smile. “Remember what I asked you to observe when you first came here?”
My second day on the job, Mr. Zheng had asked me to pay attention to the service standards in our shop, and keep a running mental comparison to barber shops in the United States. Mr. Zheng had heard that service standards were much higher in the US than they were in China, and wanted to make the service in his shop more like that in the US.
“I want you to talk to all the employees, for about twenty minutes and compare our service to that of barber shops in your country. I want you to mention the good aspects and bad aspects of our service…but emphasize the bad aspects.” Mr. Zheng said.
I had to ponder for a moment. Generally speaking, standards of service in China are considerably lower than what I would expect in the US. This is especially applicable in restaurants, hotels, and banks. Ironically, I have noticed that the service given to customers in our barber shop is every bit as good, if not better than the barber shop I go to in the US. When customers walk in the door they are greeted by a sonorous “huan ying guang lin” and then a little brother or sister directs them into the store and begins the hair washing process. Every customer, whether receiving service or just waiting for a friend, is brought a glass of hot water, and I have never once seen the apathetic “How dare you disturb me from my newspaper!” from employees attitude that is prevalent in many other service industries in China.
I told Mr. Zheng, “I agree with what you say about the service industry in the US as a whole, but frankly speaking, and I’m not just saying this because you’re the boss and I’m your employee, but I can’t really think of an area where our shop’s service is worse than that of the US.”
“You have worked here for three weeks now, and you see what goes on every day. I want you to help me motivate the employees. Yes, they give good service, but too often they give service because of the rules, or because me, the boss. I want them to give good service because they really want to give good service, make it more natural,” he said.
This is the same kind of bovine scatology I remember being told when I was working service industry jobs in high school…as if I am somehow going to sleep better at night knowing that Pizza Hut is providing customers with best customer care in the industry. However, I will say that this form of motivation is more applicable in our shop. Since employees’ incomes are all based on how much work they do, improving the store’s business will not only thicken Mr. Zheng’s pocket, but should benefit the employees as well. Thus, it would seem logical for employees to truly want to provide better service, and not just do it because it’s the rule.
I was a little skeptical, and admittedly nervous to take on this kind of endeavor in front of my fellow employees. Mr. Zheng continued, “I think you can do it. Just think of some more ways we can improve our service. You only need to talk for 20 minutes.”
Yeah, sure, I’m not even sure I could talk for 10 minutes about this topic…in English, let alone 20 minutes in Chinese.
“I’m not sure I can do it for 20 minutes,” I told Mr. Zheng.
“OK, you need more time? How about 30 minutes?” he said.
“No that’s ok, I think 20 will be fine.” I replied.
“Great, we can talk about it more tomorrow during work. Just try to think about it tonight,” Mr. Zheng said. We returned to the shop, and I finished my cleaning duties.
I should interject that I absolutely respect what Mr. Zheng is trying to do. Often times I have experienced Chinese people (usually men) attempt to overly-exert their intellectual might, and insist on refusing advice or information from those who obviously are more knowledgeable about a specific topic. Mr. Zheng knows I am from a country which has a more developed service industry than that of his country, and wants to use my “expertise” as a way to improve his own business. The only problem is that the individual he is dealing with is a complete moron when it comes to the inner workings upscale American salons.
When I’m in the US, I get my hair cut from a bald guy in his 40’s named Marlon. I walk into the shop, read Guns and Ammo Magazine for about 5 minutes, sit in the barber chair, answer questions about my parents and brothers, talk about the stock market, discuss local sports teams, and then 15 minutes later my hair looks great. Marlon doesn’t really do much but cut my hair and chat with me about topics that barbers and old men like to chat about. Every time, I leave relaxed and satisfied, but I can not think of anything more Marlon could possibly do to enhance my overall haircut experience. So I am at a bit of a loss. I am not really sure what a Chinese barber shop could do to be more like an American one.
The talk is Thursday evening. If anybody has any suggestions for how Mr. Zheng can improve his shop, the lines to the comments section are wide open. I will try to check in throughout the day if I have the chance, and will be sure to provide an in-depth report on the meeting in the next couple days.