Customer Service: The Long Haul

Customer Service: The Long Haul

To the readers that come here to find spiritual stories and advice, hang in there, everything is spiritual. To those readers who worry that spirituality has no place in business, hang in there, too. While it may at times seem as if our work life has nothing to do with spirituality, the two are often related. In the words of the Zen Koan, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

No matter where you are in your development, most likely, we all chop wood and carry water. It is the nature of living that there are things we must do. One of the “must do”s, is customer service. Everything, even writing blog articles, alone at 4 am, is customer service.

It seems basic, but here is a comprehensive list of those you should consider your customer.

  1. Everyone.

Whether you are a mother, sister, father, brother, manager, shift lead, or janitor, everyone you meet is your customer. Whether you are a CEO, COO, MD, PhD, son, daughter, business owner, or author, everyone is your customer. Regardless of initials or punch cards, we are all in the business of customer service.

Does this mean vendors, patrons, team members, family members, and those who cut us off in traffic? Yes it does. Are we obligated to treat everyone with the same respect, regardless of what they might do for us? Only if we are taking care to grow in all things. Does this mean that we never get our way? Of course not, but it does mean we learn from every experience.

Customer service begins the instant you wake for the day. For some, it even begins the night before you wake up for the day. Customer service is everything you do, even when no one is looking. It is every thought you think, and every word you speak. Some might call it character, but I prefer perspective. Perspective and the ability to consider the perspective of others.

What follows are three customer service stories.

When Jay called me, he was upset that his car was not cleaned to his expectation. He was also bothered by our team member’s reaction to his concern. After speaking with the manager, I understood that we offered a rewash, explained what the car wash could, and could not do, and that Jay had refused. I made another call to Jay, and told him what I heard from my teammate, and listened again, with different ears.

While offering no advice and only with a little empathy, I listened as Jay told me about how it was just frustrating being stuck in lock down. He had to reschedule his mother’s brain surgery several times, and the walls were beginning to close in. For thirty minutes, I listened as he eventually explained that his reaction was more due to where he was in his head, than due to how he was treated. This did not meant that we got his car clean the first time, but it meant that he went from angry (for whatever reason), to believing we cared enough to listen, and we do.

Years ago, a customer came out of the car wash with a damaged bug shield. It was an older model truck and we simply did not cover aftermarket parts damaged in the wash. John was hot. When I say hot, I mean to say, he was fighting mad. Literally. As my assistant manager and I spoke with him, he did the unthinkable, and pushed me backwards across the lobby.

After regaining my balance, I asked the assistant manager to call the police and told John it was time for him to leave. While I cannot advise you on how to handle violence in the workplace, I can tell you that I earned immediate credit with my team as someone concerned with more than testosterone and bravado. My study of Gandhi years before had prepared me for that moment. When the story is told these days, I speak little and let the suspicions fly. John went on to write a negative Yelp review which exists on the internet today. Customer service on that day, was prepared, many thoughts and many days, prior to the need for a reaction (or non-action).

The third customer service story does not involve me. It happens every day at the sites where I help. Some team member finds themselves alone at a site, and passes a piece of paper in the parking lot. They pick it up. A couple of team members notice a leak in chemical line, and they repair it. Though they are having a bad day, a customer comes in with an issue, and team members resolve it. Managers and their teams disagree, and listen to one another, and find solutions.

These are seldom reported. Nothing seems special about these events to those that experience them, but they are customer service in its purest form.

How we treat others, how we perform the job in which we have been entrusted, and even what we learn away from our jobs are at the core of customer service.

But what about us? What about the “you” and the “me”? One of the most important rules of customer service is the understanding that none of what we do, is life or death. There are situations that could, indeed, be life or death, when it comes to safety, but mostly it is not. Customer service is not anything more than listening, responding with empathy, and developing our own ethics. We chop wood and carry water. That is all. Whether we are enlightened or not, we chop wood and carry water.

One thing that most people miss is this. While we are offered the suggestion that we should treat others the way we want to be treated, we rarely attempt to understand how we would want to be treated. For the proverbial record, I advise you treat yourself with the knowing that you are not just an actor on the movie screen of life. You are the light behind the film being projected onto the movie screen. Also, I advise you expect good things and allow good things. For others, yes, but also for yourself.

And… take care of each other. It really is pretty simple. In for the long haul, simple is better.

Will you share what you think?