The Café Rouge Oxford
A few months ago, the meaning of emotional commitment was clear to me at the Café Rouge restaurant in Oxford where I had one of the most interesting service experiences I have ever had.
I was having dinner with my wife. It was not the first time we’d visited it, and on previous occasions, we had tried a very nice wine that was recommended by one of the waiters. We couldn’t remember the name, so we tried a different one. In the middle of the meal, when we had consumed half the bottle, we recognised the waiter from our last visit and asked for the name of that bottle of wine. He approached us from his area (waiters have a designated area of responsibility) and told us that yes, he remembered us and the wine was a Malbec, a kind of wine originally from the south-west of France (Burdeos and Cahors). In fact, he remembered even where we had been sitting at the time. I don’t have a very good memory for names and places, so when these things happen, they impress me a lot.
After a while, our waiter came and asked us if everything was ok or whether we needed anything. The question was obvious because we had just been talking with this other waiter and he probably noticed. We explained the situation and how we’d mistakenly chosen the wrong wine because we hadn’t been able to recall the name. What happened after was not so straightforward. He went to ask something to our known waiter and immediately after he talked to another person that we couldn’t identify at that time. Then he came and offered to change the bottle for the Malbec, but we declined because the current wine was also good and we had already drunk half of it. But he insisted so much that we finally accepted. In a moment we were drinking our preferred wine.
What inspired me the waiter
The level of satisfaction was very high and the associated feelings extremely gratifying. The situation was so unusual that made me think deeper. My first analysis was from the waiter’s perspective. I made an association with the situation and the John Poindexter(1) Model (Zamora Enciso, 2011 pag. 68). For those who are not familiar with it, his model, based on the Knowledge Pyramid (DIKW) from Russell Ackoff (Ackoff, 1989) distinguishes between:
- Data. It is gross data. In this case the bottle of wine we had.
- Information. Data in context. Understanding the situation. We wanted a different wine.
- Knowledge. Understanding what the information means. We had a kind of feeling of frustration. That is why we asked the waiter who had served us before.
- Options. It happened when we decided what to do according to the constraints. Clearly, in this case, change the bottle or pass.
- Action. Execution. Asking for permission from the boss who was the person we initially didn’t identify and change it.
- Finally, we had an interaction that produced great satisfaction.
But then I began to consider a couple of simple questions from the business perspective. How was it possible to have collaborators so involved? What was the underlying policy? The first thing we have to notice is the waiter’s proactivity, which means a lot. The Oxford Dictionaries define proactive as an adjective “(of a person or action) creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened”. Proactivity is central to the Cooplexity model (Zamora Enciso, 2011), a model of collaboration in complexity for management in times of uncertainty and change. Complexity is related to emergent behaviour patterns and human interactions which are complex because of our capacity to make different decisions. According to the model, “proactivity oriented to results” and “proactivity oriented to relations” are key factors of the first level or knowledge acquisition. In both cases, we recognise the activities of the model (data gathering, decision making, control of the objective first and interaction, interchange, relation after) about the waiter’s actions.
It can’t be just “Emotional Labour”
At this point, it is worth thinking about their objectives? For sure it is not profitability because it was possible to avoid the expense. Instead, it is easy to assume the option of emotional satisfaction and therefore loyalty (we have repeatedly gone back since then). When I remember the situation, I can still visualise a kind of emotional connection. It couldn’t just be acting. I know what is called Emotional Labour, a term coined by the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild as “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display” (Hochschild 1983). His work explained from the perspective of theatre where the customer is the audience and the service provider the actor, proposes that managing emotions is one way for employees to achieve organisational goals. Thus, there are two processes involved, surface acting (managing observable expressions) and deep acting (managing feelings).
Not enough. It cannot be so simple. When the waiter that attended our table went to ask his colleague, it seems he was checking the wine we wanted. This approach can only be based on a trusting relationship. Any other situation of mistrust would result in a lack of action. We can find parallelism again with the second level of the Cooplexity model, which is related to cohesion. In this case the awareness of a common project, and the two factors “group integration” (cooperation, implication) and specifically “trust generation” are present.
Finally, in order to ensure the emergence of self-coordination (third level of the model), it must be a policy-oriented to people, supporting initiatives, encouraging ideas, creating a decentralized environment, giving them a certain level of autonomy, demanding results instead of procedures, asking for responsibility and not just the standard expected performance, etc. When the situation is complex, executives cannot manage the whole business, cannot be everywhere, cannot make all the decisions and cannot be aware of everything. The identification of “local” opportunities and risks depends on the people who are in contact with a situation. It demands the last two factors of the model, “equal relationship” (mutual consideration, respect) and “criteria for action” (definition of criteria). The definition of criteria is not only a problem of defining the objective (already done) but also the way it can be reached. Therefore acting and empathising are two key dimensions of this criteria.
That is when I can clearly apply the concept of high performance team to all of them as “a small number of interdependent persons that are spontaneously and naturally coordinated, with the motive of a common project, thanks to a feeling of membership resulting from a determined level of cohesion, making decisions based on shared knowledge” (Zamora Enciso, 2011 pag. 7).
But if I include us having dinner, then we were a system considered as “a series of parts that interact with each other to work as a whole. Nevertheless, a system is more than the sum of its parts; it is the product of its interactions (Kauffman, 1980).
And it works. I can assure you!
(1) John Poindexter was director of the Information Awareness Office (IAO), an official body depending on the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), responsible of the development of projects like ARPANET, the first information transmission network by packets, the predecessor of the present Internet.
- Ackoff, R. L. (1989). From Data to Wisdom. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 16, 3-9.
- Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
- Kauffman, D. L. (1980). Systems One: An Introduction to System Thinking. Minneapolis, MN: Future Systems.
- Zamora Enciso, R. (2011). Cooplexity: A model of collaboration in complexity for management in times of uncertainty and change. Lulu.com.