Turning complaints into marketing advantages – Sticks’n’Sushi

Turning complaints into marketing advantages – Sticks’n’Sushi

Sticks’n’Sushi was one of the first restaurants in Copenhagen that specialized in sushi and yakitori-sticks. The chain opened in 1994 and was founded by Jens Rahbek Hansen, Thor Andersen and Kim Rahbek Hansen. Today the chain consists of nine restaurants in Copenhagen and has more than 400 employees. Expansion plans include London.

At Sticks’n’Sushi they do not use the word “service design” – they call it service architecture). Sticks’n’Sushi is a company with a very dedicated attitude to the nature and development service; the managers work keenly and continously with service processes, value chains and multi-dimensional service.

A paramount element in Sticks’n’Sushi’s service strategy is always and without exception to hire the right employees. The CEO is often asked by his competitors why he is such a focus on employees. His answer is that he is not hiring good employees – he is hiring good people. And after hiring new employees, considerable resources are spend on training them. The company established the “Sticks’n’Sushi Academy” with 32 different internal courses. A number of different and very precise manuals are elaborated for the various job-functions. And Sticks’n’Sushi has created a career program which means that the right employee during 10 years can move from runner to partner at Sticks’n’Sushi.

Kim Rahbek Hansen in convinced that ‘decent people’ combined with insight creates the foundation for “the good mindset”, which for Kim Rahbek Hansen summarizes what good service is, and what he wants Sticks’n’Sushi to stand for. “Decent people” know how to behave in social settings, they are not afraid of addressing the guests etc. Adequate competences – knowledge of sushi, yakitori-sticks and sake – make the employees feel on top of the situation. And they are therefore not afraid of meeting the guests and answering their questions to the menu, drinks etc. This kind of self-confidence creates space for creativity in the service delivery, and it give the courage to improvise.

When visiting a restaurant the customer could get the impression that Sticks’n’Sushi have a very ‘loose’ organisation. This is not the case. At Sticks’n’Sushi each employee have strict  job functions and behavioral limits; if an employee for some reason wants to compensate a guest, approval from the management is needed. Complaints is received by any employee but only handled by the restaurants’ management.

Sticks’n’Sushi have a clear and strategically well-considered complaint policy: If a guest returns home from Sticks’n’Sushi with take-away sushi and discovers that e.g. soya is missing, a taxi is immediately sent to the guest’s house with whatever is missing. Sticks’n’Sushi envisages that the guest is always right in his/her complaint and must be compensated. This policy solves the immediate problem for the guest, but in addition, most guests are transformed into extremely loyal ambassadors. A saying goes that each restaurant can measure quality and precision of its services by the number of taxi bills.

Kim Rahbek Hansen has clear prospect for Sticks’n’Sushi’s further development. He is surrounded by competent advisors, and he encourages his guests to bring good ideas forward. However Kim Rahbek Hansen raises a critique on the intensive use focus groups for innovation purposes. In his opinion the most interesting ‘edges’ will often be removed, if a number of people have to agree on a concept. It is not always possible to successful concept with logical analysis. Thinking differently and taking chances are still essential for those who work on creating business successes.

See more about the sustainability policy on www.sushi.dk.

This innovation case has been submitted by Søren Bechmann. You can find other cases and description of the service design discipline in the book “Servicedesign” by Søren Bechmann published by Gyldendal Akademisk (2010 in Danish). See also www.bechmann.info

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