COMING from a Hospitality background, good customer service is a subject close to my heart.  I’ve almost come to dislike the word “service” though, because it connotes a thing that we do, that we provide, that we deliver, rather than an attitude or frame of mind.  Worse, it smacks of subordination of service giver to service taker.

Most books and courses and training material on customer service list endless processes, steps, scripts, or procedures that need to be taught, enforced, and followed by service provision staff in order that customers get “good service” and end up satisfied.

No doubt there’s need for such training, but in my experience, two fundamentals need to be fully understood by service providers before any specific training or step-by-step process will be useful.

The first is about how service is defined.  My definition is:

Helping people.

So easy, so simple, so not understood.

Wait-staff help people enjoy a meal.

Bank employees help people with their money.

Sales-staff help people make the right buying choice.

Teachers help people learn.

If service people have the mindset that their role is simply to help, no matter what, how can they go wrong?

The second Service Fundamental is:

Being of service does not mean being subservient.

The act of helping people does not make you inferior, unequal, lower, subordinate, or any other belittling adjective.

Good service can only take place in a mutually respectful relationship. A service professional is never obsequious, because no one respects an apple-polisher.  Start with the mind-set that you’re an equal – that you earn and deserve respect – and giving good service comes much easier.  [Incidentally, the term, “good customer” describes people who show respect to service givers; and it’s the best way to get good service.]

Helping people, that is, “being of service”, starts with a sincere desire to actually be helpful.  Again, this seems so simple, but is obviously not well understood, because bad, inefficient, unfriendly service seems more the rule than the exception.

Only when team members understand and embody these two fundamentals, that good service simply means being helpful without being subservient, are they ready to learn specific processes, procedures, protocols and, if you really must have them, scripts.

The only other thing I’ll say about service is to question (and answer) who is in the business of giving service and who then needs to understand the two principles outlined above?

The answer:  Everyone.  You, me, everyone.

The distinction between goods and services is getting blurrier every day.  Most products these days may be primarily one or the other, but incorporate elements of both.  We no longer buy just a product.  Along with most goods we buy come after-sales service, owner-forums, user review sites, help-lines, and sundry other “service components”.

No matter what your role; employee, manager, manufacturer, parent, friend, teacher, tradesman, professional, politician or bureaucrat, we all need to be in the business of helping people.  It’s in our own self-interest to do so.  Whether you’re helping external customers, internal customers, family, friends, or a stranger in the street, what goes around comes around.