SERVE YOUR SERVICE WITH A PINCH OF FUN.
Two biggest problems in today’s business are to motivate
workers and consumers. Routine type of work environment and consumer
environment resulting into both employee as well as customer turnover. Making
routine employees and customers experience fun can turnaround organization’s
performance. It can act as important differentiator in creating an edge over
Atanu Adhikari, a BE, MBA (Gold Medalist) and Research Fellow at IBS, Hyderabadis dealing with some cases where companies have attempted to make it more fun for their employees and customers to use their services. These companies have implemented different components of fun into their businesses to take competitive advantage.
Last month I went to a bank for withdrawal when the lady sitting at counter pointed out “You should fill up the slip correctly.” Her words stung me like a bee. She appeared so judgmental that I felt she is my teacher in grade school. I was so upset that decided to report to the concerned manager who then found out that the staff wanted to inform me that one information was absent in the form.
This one is my recent experience with one airline office to confirm tickets from Calcutta to London both ways. When I requested the representative sitting at city office counter for confirmation, “Get it from the agent you bought the ticket” was the reply. Needless to say this airline is no more in my list of preference.
Many of us experience similar kind of behavior from our service providers sometime or other. Does this mean both these executives behave in similar manner every time? Certainly, not! Most of the cases words delivered by the employee depend upon their existing mental state which in turn influences the choice of words and mode of delivery. Research says we enter our work place with mild anxiety or even dread. Even a very creative and entertaining person can face a hard time in serving patrons and can make her irate unknowingly with the expression and dialogue. First Tennessee Bank believes that if you treat employees well, they in turn treat your customers well.
While above are two extreme cases; most behavior fall in a different zone, however. Such behaviors are so neutral that repetition makes people to look it in negative way and feel neglected. For such service businesses, however injecting fun both into employees and point of sales could be an important differentiator. Some companies have discovered the competitive advantages of adding fun into their office environment and customer environment.
Utility of fun
“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and doesn’t stop until you get to the office,” said Robert Frost. Most of the people choose to do more fun if they are given choice between fun and work or an environment with fun and without. Humor and Fun have a naturally positive effect on human attitude. Humor can help us to develop a psychological distance from stressful situations so that we can treat them more sensibly. Humor is also a very good socializing tool. Research says people are attracted to individuals who have a good sense of humor. It also reduces tensions within the group. People work more effectively in a laughing environment than neutral environment. Dr. William Fry, a psychiatrist in California, has shown that 20 seconds of hearty laughter is the aerobic equivalent of 3 minutes of hard rowing.
Research says, human, like most other animal appear to do things for sheer enjoyment of doing them. These are like cats are running around the room, chimpanzees wrestle and play and monkeys jump here and there. Human character also wants to have fun but personal enjoyment of human is not only biological but also societal. They enjoy social recognition and interaction. There are a spiritual benefit of humor and fun. With reorganizing, outsourcing, downsizing and all other such kind of work that are occurring today’s workplace can be compensated by laughing and humor. Humor is one of the very strong weapons that can be used to defend in such stress situations.
Fun at office environment
How does it look if the work is with fun? “If work was more fun, it would feel less like work,” said Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines. In a survey conducted by Robert Half International, 84% of the CEO’s and Human resource Directors surveyed indicated that people with sense of humor do a better job. Research done by Hodge Cronin and Associates among 737 CEO said they would prefer to hire someone with a sense of humor. Humor is one of the most important ingredients which increases productivity and efficiency of employees, enhances team building and encourage creativity. It helps to make our mind free and makes hard task easier. It eliminates inevitable boredom and that arises from dull, repetitive and non-challenging tasks. Fun environment keeps a work force happy, healthy and reduces absenteeism and employee turnover as employees experiences personal enjoyment.
George Smith, leading authority on workforce innovation says “Money may get employees in the front door, but you need something else to keep them going out from the back door.” His recent video: How to Attract, Keep and Motivate Your Workforce focuses on creating a motivating work environment based on the principle of FAST-FUN:
F – Focus on the behavior.
A – Avoid bureaucracy.
S – Simplicity.
T – Team ownership.
FUN – Make it fun, entertaining and spontaneous.
Here are few examples of fun workplace
Humor Corner: Keep one corner of a break room or any other area to post cartoons, illustrations and other items designed to release stress. At the end of each week, the staff can award a prize for the best submission.
Flextime/Flex share: The presence of flextime / Flex share is common in IT and technology intensive companies as most of the time their employees deal with stressful jobs. Sun Microsystems has reduced their attrition rate up to 2% in 02-03. In The First Tennessee Bank, the use of flex time and Flex share program has resulted double of the loan volume with no increase of staff or major change in system or technology. There was a giant leap in customer service rating.
Dancing the Macarena: Employees at People Soft Inc. still remember the day that their CEO David Duffield danced the Macarena in front of 500 happy employees. Duffield doesn’t act like a boss and keep friendly touch with his co-workers with fun and humor. Annual employee turnover is 3% against a national average of 12%. Employees earn outstanding service awards in cash and stock option.
Color outside the lines: “Working for SWA is being able to color outside the lines, being able to be you and have fun!!” – says Vicki Simmons. Herb Kelleher, CEO and founder of Southwest Airlines, combines fun and hard work into something he calls ‘management by fooling around’. SWA insist informality in issuing tickets, boarding passes, casual dress of employees which demonstrates something different from other airlines.
A good 90% of employees of Sun Microsystems say that they have fun at work and that their relationship with peers made a better environment. Retention rate in 01-02 was 93% and in 02-03 was 98%. Most of us, when we make work process more fun, our attitudes are affected and that can lead to new level of productivity and commitment. If we want to add more fun to our work, researchers suggest following facilitators:
Once I checked in a business hotel at New Delhi in one business trip. When I entered into the lobby, I encountered a man looking like a leopard. The surroundings of the corridor were with artificial plantation to give a look of approach of the forest. While proceeding towards dinner room, I found a lady in lion outfit. When I entered the dinner room, it was looking like a forest. The entire staffs were dressed in jangle suit and the restaurant was full of green and yelling of Tarzan. The evening was complete success with full of fun which has definitely influenced the guests to remain loyal and visit the same hotel next time as it did with me.
Fun and work are not mutually independent. Customers appreciate it when employees are happy and helpful. They benefit when employee feel good about themselves as that make them more patient and caring. Fun makes work much faster and hence, saves consumer’s time. As consumers are becoming more diverse we find more and more variation in communication style of the patrons. It is required to look in different ways people communicate (and often miscommunicate) their needs and preferences. Experimental in nature, a fun punched consumer environment can reduce this diversity. It taps innate humor of most staid and serious clients and loosens up their stress.
Jordon’s Furniture has improved enormously by injecting fun into everything connected with their business. In 2002, its 1400 employees sold $950 per sq.ft. against an industry average of $150 and company turned its inventories 13 times against an industry average of less than two.
One of the most effective ways retailers can make an impact is introducing kids into fun environment in their retail chain. Kids are three markets rolled into one – primary market, an influence market and a future market that represent a powerful marketing opportunity.
Dole’s popular 5 day Supermarket Tour helps retailers reach kids in a way that not only influences their eating habits by introducing fun but also influences their families’ shopping habits. This highly successful program, already implemented by thousands of supermarkets is designed to bring elementary students into the supermarket produce department to learn about fruits and beverages in a fun and memorable way. The strategic planning process results in a jointly developed action plan that includes strategies and tactics to achieve business objectives.
Southwest Airlines, ‘The Hottest Thing in the Sky’(named by ‘Fortune’) has recorded an earning of $442 million last year that exceeds the combined earning of all other U.S. airlines(industry leader UAL filed the largest bankruptcy in aviation history which is $25 billion and other three large airlines lost $ 5.8 billion in total). Its market capitalization is $11.7 billion is bigger than that of all its competitors combined. When asked the COO Colleen Barrett, “We serve no meals, only snacks (mostly peanuts), we charge no fees to change of same fare tickets, we have no assigned seats, we have no electronic entertainment on the planes; instead rely on relentlessly fun flight attendants to amuse passengers” was the reply. This formula has so far proved unbeatable. When Southwest earned the San Francisco – Southern California market in late ‘80s, US Air had 58% market share in those routs. By mid ‘90s Southwest removed completely out of them. Baltimore Washington International Airport, where US Air had significant hub has been reduced to 4.9% while Southwest rank no.1 with 47% share.
ABN AMRO Bank has started opening cafeteria in the main branches in cities to provide enjoyment to their clientele who visit their bank. This had worked as important element to attract elite customer to open their retail as well as corporate account which has given leverage to ABN AMRO Bank.
Organizations want to add fun at customer environment can avail following facilitators:
Point of Sale Advertising
Many restaurants, vacation products, leisure services use their services appeal to consumer’s desire for fun and pleasure at the point of sale. The self perception theory reasons that people assumes that the behavior of the other people and the context in which it occurs, provides information about the presumed attitudes of the people (Bem,1972). Service providers, who take advantage of audio-visual moving advertisement during time of sale / service, will get an edge. A person is more likely to be attached to a product and advertisement that they experiences at the point of purchase. Many particular services and advertisements can be analyzed and explained via the peripheral route of cognitive processing using the attitude strengtheners of POS advertising.
While introducing fun into employees and consumers environment is one of the important criteria to attract customer, keeping the fun concept fresh is one of the challenging effort for such companies. If the same fun concept is repeated it generally make the customers and employees feel like routine. Companies should plan to change the environment within required time. Creating of fun environment should not be taken lightly and proper effort and thought to be put well in advance to create a loving atmosphere. This may also difficult to launch such idea for those companies who have quite large outlets. In such case ideas to be implemented in some outlets and feasibility to be seen before connecting entire chain of shops.
This is to be kept in mind that mixing fun in employee and customer environment is a facilitator as long as the basic business is strong. Jordon’s furniture, Dole, Southwest Airlines and ABN AMRO Bank operate in high standard in their respective industries. They also hire people looking to their attitude and soft skill rather than banking only on their hard knowledge and for such cases, addition of fun into business can give a quantum leap forward.
email@example.com or call me at 09133 2433 0733.
Atanu Adhikari – Research Fellow
ICFAI Institute of Management Teachers
3rd floor, Astral Heights
6-3-352 / 2 & 3
Road 1, Banjara Hills
Hyderabad – 500082, India.
Kolkata – 700 144
West Bengal, India.