The idea I wanted to test out was that customer service sometimes requires helping the customer to find a solution that will suit their needs - and it seems to me that they often forget or neglect this task. It's not a matter of passively doing whatever the customer says, because the customer sometimes doesn't know what he really needs.
And so, I tried this out in a restaurants a few times. It seems to me that wait staff are the ultimate order-takers, particularly because one of their primary functions is to take the customer's order. I wanted to see if they were capable of providing good customer service, by way of making recommendations to a customer who wasn't sure what to order. In general, it did not go well. A typical "service" conversation went a bit like this ...
WAIT: May I take your order?I could go further here and sometimes did when I was in the situation, but for the most part I let the poor wait wriggle off the hook and made a decision after a few rounds of attempting to get them to make a recommendation.
ME: I was hoping you could help me decide. What's good here?
WAIT: Everything is good here.
ME: I'm not hungry enough to eat everything. Can you recommend something?
WAIT: Well, what kind of food do you like?
ME: I'm flexible. Not a vegetarian. Not on a diet. No allergies.
WAIT: Then anything on our menu should be OK.
ME: Right. So what would you recommend?
WAIT: Well, people seem to like [this]. And [this] and [this] are pretty good, too.
ME: So which of those three would you recommend?
WAIT: It depends on what you're in a mood for.
I do have to give credit to the few who actually did make a single recommendation, though usually with some further prodding. And I do have to give discredit to the one who quickly suggested the most expensive item on the menu (it is a stereotype that waiters will do this to increase their tips - and he was perfect example). But in the most part, it ended in stalemate, with the "service" provider growing increasingly annoyed by my request for what seemed to be a very simple service.
The eureka moment finally came when I asked one wait why she would not make a specific recommendation. Her reply was this: "If I choose something for you and you don't like it, then it's my fault you had a bad lunch."
And that gets to the very psychological issues that underlie so many poor service encounters (or interactions of any kind): fear and self-doubt. A person who is fearful of making a bad decision and doubts in their ability to make a good decision will simply freeze up and wait for someone else to save them.
For now, I am simply exploring an issue to get to the root of the problem. I expect the solution requires some changes to the behavior of both the server (who must be confident enough to make a decision for the customer) and the customer (who must accept the risk that allowing someone else to decide might lead to disappointment).
It's probably something that the customer can address explicitly in the situation (assure the server they will not be blamed), but that seems a bit slapdash and ad-hoc. So it will likely take a bit more thinking and experimentation to arrive at a viable solution that has broader applicability - but it does seem worth the effort to address this service deficit that is all too common.