by Peter Cheng

Ever dashed into a hotel room toilet, eager to relieve your upset stomach, only to find the toilet roll holder empty? I have had a few such experiences. It is extremely frustrating to be scavenging for toilet paper when bothered by the inner turmoil of a churning stomach.

This scenario paints a picture to introduce two types of service providers: one who adopts the traditional way of problem-solving by only replacing toilet rolls when there are a few segments left on the existing roll; and the other who uses the exceptional view of problem-solving by anticipating the usage and depletion of the toilet rolls and supply a spare roll by the side even before the first roll runs out.

A service provider who embraces the exceptional view of problem-solving anticipate problems. To anticipate is not to guess but is to be observant using the six senses to determine customer’s needs. In this case, anticipate the frequency of toiletries running out and replenishing them before it runs out. For that matter, the need of different guests for a softer or harder pillow has to be checked too.

Contrast this with the traditional view that advocates solving problems only as they arise. In essence, do nothing till you see the fire—this is crisis management. Such an approach to problem-solving is reactive; we only react when we see a problem, only scramble for the extinguisher in the midst of the blaze. And often we find that when treated in such a manner, for example, problems begin to accumulate, controlling the service provider by virtue of the provider’s slow response to the problem.

Anticipating a problem is not about skills—it is an attitude. It is about how service providers put themselves into a situation, knowing that what they do best for the customer will be what they do best for themselves. Service providers should adopt an exceptional view of problem-solving—solve the problem before it starts. In other words, they “smell smoke before they see the fire” and begin extinguishing the smoke before the flame even flickers.

Firefighting is a term that we hear all the time, both at home and in social settings, and most of the time, at our workplaces. Managers are known to be firefighters, whereas leaders are change agents. What makes them different? In most cases, people see leaders as focused on the future, while managers are perceived as merely overseeing the day-to-day operations.

What has this got to do with service providers? When great service providers adopt an exceptional view of problem-solving, they act like leaders. More importantly, they often adopt a service mentality—anticipating problems, spearheading change efforts, having a vision for the future and pre-empting the consequences of certain actions. People who adopt the exceptional view of problem-solving are often proactive in both mindset and actions. Above all, they take control of situations instead of having the situations control them.

To find out more about how service providers can solve problems exceptionally, order your copy of Real Service at