In American restaurants, waiters and waitresses typically earn well-below minimum wage for their work. Instead, they are supposed to earn their money by providing good service to their customers, who will tip them based on the quality of their service.
For Americans this means that the waiters and waitresses should check in regularly with the customers, ask if they need anything, and fulfill any requests that the customers have – in other words, to act as the customers’ servants.
Americans are willing to behave this way because they expect monetary remuneration for their actions.
In many cultures, hospitality – the relationship between a guest and a host – is of great importance. Being considered an inhospitable host is dishonorable to the guest and the local community alike. This idea is similar to the concept of serving a customer in the personal, respectful way that most Americans consumers expect. One example of the importance of this concept is found in the vision of Hilton Hotels: “To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.”
This idea is not constrained to hotels, however. The president of outdoor supplier L.L.Bean, Chris McCormick, described customer service as a key part of the company’s success: “Superior customer service has always been and always will be the cornerstone of our brand and heritage and an attribute that differentiates us from the rest of the pack. It goes back to L.L.’s Golden Rule of treating customers like human beings.”
In American English, the above quote can be succinctly summarized as: “the customer is always right.” This is a very common phrase that most consumers and businesses treat as an underlying truth in all interactions with customers. Even if the customer is actually wrong, it is up to the service provider to treat the customer with respect, understand his point of view, and offer a solution. Anything short of these expectations will be viewed as bad service.
As one senior consultant at a major American strategy consulting firm put it, “Service is defined completely by the customer.” In the consulting realm and many other industries, customers come with clearly defined needs and expectations. The service provider must understand those expectations and deliver service that is consistent with what the customer expects.
Craig Reid, former President of Operations – Americas at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and now CEO at Auberge Resorts, similarly stated that “If customers are buying excellence – and they are the people who define excellence – you’ve constantly got to measure whether they agree with your interpretation of excellence at that particular time. And that definition of excellence evolves constantly.”