Pete’s Weekly: All About The Dark Side Of Service

Service: The Dark Side

When you enter a franchise restaurant you enter a finely choreographed scenario that features you as the chief actor. They don’t just serve up food. They also serve up an experience, which I think is much more important.

I thought this as I watched a swimming pool being installed on Saturday. In theory, turning a fibreglass shell into a swimming pool consists of:

  1. Digging a hole that is about the right size;
  2. Gently slipping in the fibreglass shell;
  3. Connecting the pump and lights.

So, as I watched the pool shell lying on top of a heap of builders rubble, I made the mistake of asking why it hadn’t been slipped straight in. One makes this kind of mistake basking in the gentle winter sunlight of a Cape weekend sipping a glass of 1991 Uitkyk Carlonet that one has just purchased for a pittance at Mooiberg Farm Stall.

My hosts vented forth in a robust report of what can go wrong with pools. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say that they used the “F” word a lot.

It turns out that the pool had indeed been installed. Twice, in fact. First there was a problem with the clay base and the pool tilted somewhat.

They got it right on the second try, at least according to their project manager, who assured the wife of my host that 4cm higher on the left side was within professionally accepted standards. Hubbie suggested, forcefully, that it wasn’t.

And here I was, watching the third attempt. John Cleese wishes he could produce material like this.

The team had pegged string into the ground to mark where ‘level’ was, and were pouring gravel in with immense gusto, yelling “FORE” at each other to watch out as the stones dropped into the hole, as golfers are wont to do when they have little idea where their ball is about to land.

Every now and then the fellow smoking the brown sweetly scented cigarillo would get lost in a small grey avalanche and launch forth with a stream of Afrikaans invective that would do Shakespeare proud. I think his name was YoBieg Dwurs, which is what his mates often called him. If I am not mistaken that is a Dutch name.

Finally, they manhandled the shell back into the hole. It was quiet for a while, mainly because Mr Dwurs had vanished. One of mein hosts kids pointed out that there was some smoke wafting from the drainage hole at the bottom of the pool. After they had all stopped laughing and high-fiving they playfully lifted the shell up again, woke Mr Dwurs up, and vanished for intermission or maybe it was afternoon tea.

During the break, a Mr Springbok arrived to sort out the electrics. He was a professional electrician, and took great personal interest in his work. I could follow his progress around the house by the small bang that preceded his rather vocal ‘fork’s as he tested the lines to find the one he needed to power the pool.

Every now and then the family boerboel would complain with a deep bark and one of the kids would have to entice Springbok down from the roof. His mates found this more and more hysterical as they imbibed more and more tea. Eventually, Springbok found the correct line in the room I was sitting in, and danced a small jig and high-fived himself before knocking over the hifi.

The team arrived back to level the pool shell. This required the two largest workers stomping on the highest corner to force it down to the correct level with choral accompaniment from the others. This all turned into good natured laughter as one of them slipped off the edge and into the water, now about a metre deep. For some reason he too yelled for a fork.

Although I found this as entertaining as a fresh episode of Fawlty Towers, my hosts were appalled. This was apparently a professional pool installaiton firm with more than 650 installations under their belt.

Which brings me back to my point. No matter how perfect the final result, this client experience will always rankle. And that is what they will talk about whenever someone comments on their fine pool. And often, even when someone does not comment. The choreography is often more important than the final result.

The really sad part, for me, is that if I invented this stuff and wrote it as fiction nobody would believe it.

All the best

Peter Carruthers

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