I have done my share of service jobs – the obvious ones such as waitressing and shop work – where treating customers (and potential customers) with respect was a core part of the job. It’s no good simply taking an order for coffee and a slice of gateau, and then dumping the items in front of the customer. It is as important that you deliver their order professionally and pleasantly as it is that the coffee and slice of gateau are tasty.  The experience should be more than one of simply having something to eat and drink – otherwise why bother leaving the house or office to do so?

file8171249370166Gradually I have come to recognise that all of the jobs I have undertaken have been service ones.  Working in a market garden shop was most obviously a service one, as was waitressing in a coffee shop, and although may not seem obviously so at first glance, providing a library and information service for an engineering company, interior design company or electrical utility (as I have done) are exactly the same as working in a shop or waitressing. It’s the product that is different.  In my case I was providing answers to questions and fulfilling information needs rather thancoffee and gateau.  When I moved to work as a professional adviser my job was also one of service – to members of a professional body.

The bottom line with all of the above job roles is that of filling a need and that is the same whether someone is buying goods, dining out or needing help with an engineering problem.

Once you accept that your role is a selling one it changes your perspective on the relationships that develop with your customers, users and clients.  Most people like to do a good job. They like to be recognised as able, competent, pleasant and helpful as well as efficient and productive. I know that we all have examples of people who are the exact opposite of this, but as the saying goes “the exception proves the rule”!

So doing a service job is basically no different to any other except for one very significant difference. You have to interact with people, and by people I am referring to customers/clients/patients/users etc and not colleagues  This is the key element. Service is most often face-to-face: sometimes voice-to-voice and sometimes more remote. The common thread is helping another person to obtain something that they want.  This is just the sort of thing that should make us feel good. So why doesn’t it?

Waiters and waitresses in USA are savvy enough to recognise that by doing a good job and giving their diners a good experience they can boost their tips. But that can’t be the only reason (it can get tiring). Mostly – and this is not a scientific survey, but based on personal experience of several trips to several States – they take pride in their work.  It’s as though they have realised that not only does it make all encounters more enjoyable, but it also makes the time pass more quickly. The “have a nice day” attitude of Americans can seem a bit much when you first encounter it, but once you accept that it is more often than not genuine, it can become rather nice.

In the UK however, there is a tendency to see such roles as subservient ones, as somehow less important than others. This can lead to surly service and even rather superior service by people who imagine that looking down their noses at people will make themselves feel more important!  What they don’t appreciate is that by helping people to something they want or need, the by-product is job satisfaction and that job-satisfaction leads to feel-good sensations for everyone involved.

Tips for more pleasant inter-human customer-service style interactions.

  • Smile. Smiles can be powerful barrier breakers, and are infectious, rather like a giggle.
  • Practice smiling at strangers. For example: try smiling at someone on the opposite escalator. Almost be default they will smile back, and if they don’t then you can wonder at what is happening in their lives and why their life night be devoid of joy?
  • Phone smile. Smiling when you talk on the phone changes the shape of your mouth and impacts on your vocal chords.
  • Listen. Really listen to the people you are serving. It shows that they are important to you. Actively listening (rather than passively) will lead to less misunderstanding and less assumptions about what is being said or meant.
  • Honesty.  If you don’t know the answer, say so. If you have a suggestion then give it.
  • Courteousy. It costs nothing (not even dignity as I heard someone say recently!) and maintains your integrity regardless of how others behave.
  • Calm. Being calm and considerate reaps rewards even when interactions get fractious. However ….. it is important to remember when calm has shifted into smugness.
  • Friendly. Combining the smile with everything else helps make people feel that they matter.
  • Patience. Is a virtue, especially when your client/customer is being unreasonable.
  • The old adage of the ‘customer is always right’ is valid up to a point. Rudeness and aggression are never acceptable.