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What Can corporate world Learn from Seva Café.

Restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads Rs.0. Run on Indian Philosophy of 'Athithi Devo Bhava' (Translated, reads as 'Guest is God')

Athithi Devo Bhava' (Translated, reads as 'Guest is God')

Seva Café, Ahmedabad: The Café where customers decide the price, after eating the food, paying for food is optional- if you feel like, you can pay, or not pay. In 2012, I had an experience which will stay with me for a very long time. I volunteered at Seva Café to clean 500 utensils in an evening (steel plates, spoons, bowls, cooking vessels and so on)- but this is not the highlight, this is just a side act. Read on to know more. 

The experience taught me quite a few lessons which I would like to link with how customers respond with positivity towards the organization, if the Customer Experience is excellent and is given due importance. It is a no-brainer, but providing excellent customer service though may sound simple in concept, requires extreme diligence in execution.

 ‘Seva’ is a Hindi word which means ‘Serving’ / ‘Taking Care’. Seva Café is run by ‘Mahatma Gandhi Ashram’. The Café is Unique in many ways. 

• No Rate card/ Zero Bill- Seva Café has no rate card and the bill presented post meal reads ‘zero’, the customer pays whatever he wants to or does not pay. 

• Completely run by Volunteers: Seva Café is primarily run by Volunteers (except for 5 permanent employees). 

• Excellent Food: Food at Seva Café is excellent and almost every day is packed to capacity. 

Philosophy of Seva Café: “At Seva Cafe, we serve with the spirit of “Atithi Devo Bhava” which translates to “The Guest is God,”. When you dine at Seva Cafe, you are not viewed as a customer, but instead as our treasured guest, as part of our family.” 

All the volunteers before they begin their volunteering session every day are told the following  “You are going to work here for the evening, providing service to strangers. Whether you are going to serve water, take orders or clean dishes, please keep smiling through the evening, and please give it all while you are serving our guests, happiness would get passed, smile would get passed”. 

These are profound words and if we can internalize the above philosophy in some way, more often we would work towards creating excellent customer experiences.

 I have illustrated the example of Seva Café, for following reasons: It works and it primarily works because of simple principles around Focus, Teamwork and Simplicity.

 1) There is no rate Card at Seva Café: Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the bill presented to you reads Rs.0 (zero). Guest at Seva Café still pay almost all the time, they pay more than what they would have paid for a similar meal in any other restaurant and that is a testimony to the excellent service at Seva Café, with smiles by people who are serving to experience love and spread love. Relevance to Corporate world: Customers would be more eager to avail services if service provided is excellent and customer service comes with passion, from the heart and with smile. 

2) Passion and Interest: Volunteers come and serve strangers (without any remuneration or benefit), and many times Volunteers come back to serve, and many volunteers serve on a regular basis, almost 10-12 days in a month. They just enjoying doing it, and they just ‘own’ the work, and want it to be a fantastic experience for the customer. Relevance to Corporate world: Each customer facing personnel, in fact everybody in the organization should work towards ‘Customer Delight’, should own the customer issue and try to solve the same end to end. This can only happen when the employees involved work with passion and interest. 

3) Team work-collaborate, coordinate, cooperate: The fantastic fact is that Seva Café needs around 15 people to run the café daily, and they have only 5 permanent employees, the rest 10 of the workforce come from Volunteering. Volunteers, complete strangers, within a span of 15-20 minutes of introduction, gel well to collaborate, coordinate, cooperate and serve for the day. Volunteers who know more about restaurant work, help the others who don’t know. Relevance to Corporate world: As part of providing solutions to customers, employees need to collaborate and cooperate with internal teams and external teams. They need to reach out and work with different teams as one Unit to solve customer issues. They need to help new members joining the team and help them come up the learning curve, coach them to enhance their skills. 

4) Enthusiasm: I have visited Seva café 3 times, but I have heard from so many of my friends who have visited before, that the ‘enthusiasm’ of employees and Volunteers at Seva café is amazing. Relevance to Corporate world: As I have illustrated above, employees can either follow the work manual and say our task is done, or understand the customer issue end to end and go all the way out to find innovative solutions for the customers with enthusiasm. 

5) Profitability: Despite having no rate card and customers in no compulsion to pay, Seva Café has been in existence for 11 years (now), and has been making profit. The reason they make profit is ‘excellent customer service’. Relevance to corporate world.: For each company profitability is paramount. Each transaction done by employees has an impact on customer, if customer is happy with service, there is more likelihood of repeat business from him and company achieving profitability goal. 

Attitude is king, Smile is the Queen: The above illustrates that the basis for excellent customer service is ‘Attitude’, if we don’t have the right ‘attitude’ to serve well, no amount of training can help, training only tells us how to do it, ‘attitude’ makes us do it each time, every time with a smile. 

Seva Café: http://www.movedbylove.org/projects/sevacafe

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