The Spirit of Serving Others
During a recent visit to the grocery store, I was reminded first hand that there is a huge difference between serving customers and customer service. After selecting a full basket of food for the family (which includes a son who stands 6’6”), I was at the check out counter (watching once more in awe how expensive it is these days to buy even the basic staples) when I realized I had forgotten my wallet. It was a bit horrifying and quite embarrassing to realize I had left all my money at home, but without missing a beat the cashier told me that sometimes that happens and not to worry. This store’s policy when that happens is to ask the customer to sign a voucher for the amount due and to return within three days to pay. I didn’t have to put all the groceries back. I didn’t have to leave the groceries, run home for my wallet and return. Most importantly, I didn’t have to be embarrassed.
My immediate reaction was—now THIS is customer service. My second reaction was that I would remain a loyal customer of this store no matter what coupons they offered, no matter if their prices were sometimes a little bit higher than other stores. When I thanked the store employees for their consideration, I was told not to worry because they knew I was a valuable customer. They probably couldn’t, without looking at my signed voucher, have told me my name but they prevented what could have been an uncomfortable situation and made me feel important to their business. They didn’t just serve the customer, they provided customer service.
I left the store wishing I had asked the store manager how this small, family-owned chain of grocery stores had taken a simple customer service policy and communicated the concept to their employees. I wondered how this was addressed in employee orientation and training, what effect such policies had in employee selection and hiring, and what steps they took to help employees understand how their behavior made the difference between serving customers and customer service.
Some of the greatest minds debate whether or not certain attributes—like leadership, entrepreneurship, and customer service—are learned skills or inherent traits. We probably will never come to a definitive conclusion on that question, but the most successful businesses (especially those in a service industry such as ours) find a way to make sure that those simple business policies written by the leading minds of an organization become the spirit of serving others through the daily behaviors of every employee. And it is this spirit of serving others that is not only one of the basic tenets of customer loyalty programs, it is the life and breath of what we call hospitality.