Sun, Nov 03, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Russia learning value of
service with a smile

Gone are the scowls and cold shoulders, as Russia’s service industry — from airlines to restaurants — become more customer-oriented to cope with rising demands from an expanding middle class

by Andrew Kramer  /  NY Times News Service, MOSCOW

And ahead of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February, the Russian organizers have arranged stadium-size training courses for the university students and other volunteers who will usher visitors through the sites. The main message: smile; be friendly.

Nadezhda Shvetsova, 27, a flight attendant in training for Aeroflot, described the lessons she had received as “teaching people to be happy, to enjoy what they are doing and to have a positive outlook.”

The new training proposed by McKinsey focused on providing a sense of personal attention without taxing the attendant’s time.

The flight attendant, for example, should tell a passenger, “I hope you are comfortable,” but not ask, “Are you comfortable?” The first signals concern, but the latter might illicit an actual, and unwanted, response.

A pretense of friendship with strangers for commercial reasons was not a part of Russian culture before — and excessive smiling only recalled the Russian saying: “Laughter without reason is a sign of foolishness.”

Such notions had to go. McKinsey recommended that training cut through the culture by focusing on dialogues, in every one of which the flight attendant is pleasant and responsive.

Russian companies are quickly importing the latest practices in customer service, Sukharevsky said, predicting that Russia would soon “leapfrog the West” in customer service.

ASIAN STYLE

In its latest initiative, Aeroflot has borrowed from Asian carriers the practice of instructing flight attendants to kneel before passengers in business class so they can discuss drink and meal orders at eye level.

And so, in an all but otherworldly scene of in-flight nirvana for most of the flying public, who these days are accustomed to harried attendants and tiny packs of honey-roasted peanuts, the trainees knelt one before the other in the mock airplane aisle to offer glasses of Brut Dargent, a French white wine, with a broad smile.

“Can I take your order for a drink before we take off?” Grishina asked pleasantly.

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