The Gift of Service

December 11th, 2012 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on The Gift of Service

Customer service at the retail level reminds me of how we view education in our society. Every politician, whether they are running for Town Council or President of the United States, talks a wonderful game when it comes to the importance of the role education must play in the lives of our children. They go on to promise programs and funding, more teachers, better classrooms, and on and on. During the political season, the rhetoric soars and we very much seem like a nation concerned about the future of our children – both willing and dedicated to fixing any problems that stand in our way. But, as soon as the election cycle is over, the conversation quickly disappears, there is no new funding for classrooms, and if the budget is a little tight, the first cuts are to our education department, and the first layoffs are our teachers.

It’s easy to pay lip service to what we know is most important. But what happens is that over time, it all just becomes words – often empty words – and we rarely even take the time to truly understand the impact of what our promises or rhetoric could actually bring to bear on our society, if those words were truly acted upon. It’s as if the frequency of saying the words has actually hindered our ability to move forward with action, because we tend to actually think that we are taking action simply because we talk about something so much. It is called the action of inaction. In the world of retail, I’m afraid that we have a similar paradigm going on when it comes to customer service.

It’s easy to talk about the importance of servicing our customers. Every meeting, every workshop, and dare I say many articles out there, all discuss the importance of great customer service. Every retailer would say that they understand that the customer comes first and their primary job is to make sure that whoever walks through the door has an amazing shopping experience in their store. We all get it. We all understand it. And yet, it’s not always how it plays out in reality. Customer service is much like education in that we talk about it with such frequency and with such accepted levels of standards and definitions that it has lost a bit of its impact as a result. So, how do we change this? How do we make customer service exciting again?

I suggest that we reacquaint ourselves with what customer service truly is about. And I believe that the best way to do this is to first, take out the word “customer” for a first reflection, and just focus on the concept of service. I think most of us would agree that when we are truly of service in any capacity, we are sharing our better selves. To be of service to another means that at the moment we are helping out another person, we see them as the most important person in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we are disrespecting the importance of how much we love our children, life partner, or friends. It simply means that when someone enters our store, if we are to completely help them have the optimal experience that they can achieve while under our care, then we must see them as the most important person in our lives at that moment. We don’t judge them; we don’t see them as an interruption to our work; we don’t see them as annoying or too chatty. We see them as an opportunity. If you are serious about providing the best customer service (and not just saying that) then your best shot at achieving your aim, is to begin by making sure that whatever the needs of the shopper who you are about to interact with are, that you do everything possible to help them with those needs. Everything else you were doing up to that point becomes secondary, and now it’s incredibly clear what your task is – to create the best retail experience for this shopper that they could ever imagine. You go the distance! And the only way to really accomplish this task, is to assume that they are the most important person in your life for the duration of your interaction with them.

Being of service is a gift, but the true recipient of that gift will ultimately be you. The best way to know if you did a good job helping someone out is when you walk away and you realize that you feel energized from the interaction. Sure, by all appearances you helped them, but it’s the one who performs the service that gains the real benefit – the benefit of sharing our better selves.

Customer service needs to be far more than just a line item in our training manuals. To really distinguish your company as a leader, people need to understand what you actually mean by service. We tend to think that everyone gets it – that they understand what that phrase, “customer service’ means. It turns out, this is probably less true than you imagine. Your team needs to be clear as to what customer service is and how far you expect them to go. The standard is pretty easy and simple – you are looking to provide the most amazing experience a customer has ever had while shopping. Why would that not at least be the goal. Don’t compromise on what you’re aiming for; there will be enough compromise when the actual interaction takes place. But keep the goal pure and aspirational.

It’s easy to think that the art of retailing is exhausting because of the frequency with which we interact with the public – the barrage of people and the multitude of interactions. And it’s true – it really can be incredibly challenging. I’m not in any way implying that retail customer service is easy; only that there is an opportunity to be more fully engaged that can work well for everyone involved. If you can help your team reach a place where they understand what service is and how to provide it – their days will actually begin to feel exhilarating; for in the end, they are practicing their “better selves”. And with more practice, typically, we become good at it. And once we’re good at, it tends to become more enjoyable. That’s the beauty of service – those who provide it, receive the most. It’s part of what we do, not just in our work, but as a member of the human community. As the beloved boxer, Mohammed Ali once said, “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”