The Servanthood of Customer Service


While standing in the check-out line in Publix, I listened as a Lady in line ahead of me was explaining some customer service techniques and skills a young female checker needed to improve her expertise: “greet people, smile, be positive, she said.” The young checker never responded, either verbally or non-verbally. I whispered to the Lady, “They don’t teach them customer service skills.” She said, “I know, that is why I do it.” While the young Lady did at least greet me verbally as I paid for my goods, she remained expressionless and failed to even express Publix gratitude for shopping at her store.

 Joan Maddox, VP of Client Services for School Dude says, “Client service must be reliable, responsive, reassuring, and empathetic.” She stresses that client service is a commitment, and that it must not be an option, but a requirement of your job. In her Client Service presentations, Maddox quotes Dr. Leonard L. Berry, who is a Distinguished Professor of Marketing and former Texas A&M Professor. Dr. Berry says this about customer expectations:

“Customer expectations of service organizations are loud and clear; look good, be responsive, be reassuring through courtesy and competence, be empathetic but, most of all, be reliable. Do what you said you would do. Keep the service promise.”

Customer Service, customer relations, client services, regardless of how you brand it, it can either positively or negatively affect revenue, organizational vision and customer attitude about the organization. In fact, if you are a customer service representative – and who isn’t? – then “you are” the company or organization you represent. As such, there is a “Servanthood” attitude that must be portrayed in every exchange you have with a client.

 J C Penny, founder of JC Penny Company, is famous for saying, “The Customer is always right.” His idea was that Customer Service is priority one at JC Penny. CEO Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, Coleen Barrett, always said about her company, “We are a Customer Service Company, we just happen to fly airplanes.”


Customer Service is a leadership skill that must be trained, practiced, and perfected to insure employees represent the company in the brightest pane possible. Servanthood is a major aspect of customer service, which says that one is “serving” the needs of others. Using Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership ideals, “serving” in this context means “to make them better” than they were when the encounter began. In other words, “healing” the customer’s stress and pain, while relieving them of their perceived burden is a characteristic of quality customer service.

 The following are from my experience of over 40 years of providing customer service.

 Top 5 Customer Service Principles

 1. Establish a vision of Customer Service Expectations. If the company vision and/or mission statement says you will focus on customer service, then establish a program that insures you will do what you say. Follow the practice of Southwest Airlines: “Hire people with a ‘servants’ heart. Customer Service representatives need to care about fostering and promoting the vision and/or mission of the company. Establish standards for those you place in customer service positions: caring attitude; cheerful, happy demeanor; outgoing personality who are assertive and proactive conflict resolvers; courteous and respectful; good communication skills; and gracious in personality.

 I recommend a Customer Service Motto that will not only tell the customers your attitude about providing superior service, but also to remind representatives of company expectations. In my last position, our Custodial Services Motto was the following:

 “Customer Service is our Purpose, Quality Service is our Goal.”

 We used the motto in our Standards and at the end of all our communications. Everyone in the organization knew our standards and our goal of providing superior customer services.

 2. Establish a Customer Service Training Program. Train new employees, and re-train periodically current customer service reps, on the visionary expectations. Servanthood is the “practice” of serving. Teach the common behaviors of customer service representative: telephone etiquette; conflict resolution techniques and skills; develop an attitude to resolve the problem to make a positive impression on the customer; and impress upon employees to not take the customer’s anger and negativity personally. Keep the quest alive to resolve the customers complaint.

 Customer Service expert Glen Hamilton advises, “Create Happy Employees. Employee beliefs, attitudes and behaviors determine the quality of the customer service provided. Happy employees create happy customers.”

 3. Establish relations with customers. JC Penny knew that a happy customer was a returning customer.

 Shawn E. Gilleylen, author of “Success with Etiquette: Books of Etiquette” explains the importance of etiquette toward customers – “make customers feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated. Treat them with respect, empathy, and efficiency.” She also says, which I call most important, “Say “Thank you” and “Please” graciously.

 Exceptional Rating

4. Monitor and evaluate their performance. Leaders must proactively monitor and evaluate customer relations practices in action – inspect what you expect is a proven leadership principle. Glen Hamilton maintains that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; the same is for leaders. He suggests several ways to measure customer satisfaction, including surveys, telephone contacts, customer feedback forms, and observing employees to insure they are functioning within prescribed customer service standards.

 5. Maintain Customer Service Pride. Recognize employees who demonstrate customer service excellence, who are recognized by customers for superior performance, and who promote company goals within Customer Service missions. Advertise the recognition through company Newsletters. Create a “Customer Service Plaque” and hang it in the main entrance area of the company for everyone to see.

 Southwest Airlines is known for two things: low fares and high levels of quality customer service. United States Automobile Association (USAA) seeks to be the provider of choice to the military community. Their employees are personally committed to delivering excellent service and great advice by putting their memberships’ needs (customers) first.

 arrow - swirlsCustomer service is “serving” others first. When customers walk out the main entrance of your company fully satisfied, everyone feels good about their accomplishments. Maintaining company Servanthood is vitally important to organizational success.

 Thank you for your comments and feedback.


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