At Your Service: June 10, 2009

Service is always about attention to the needs of the customer. It is a lesson we must learn again and again if we are to remain in the business of serving people. One of the reasons we can never consider it “a lesson learned” is because each and every customer is unique.
It isn’t much of a stretch for us to recognize that we are individuals, each with our own needs and unique way of expressing them. All too often, however, we lose sight of that when working with customers. They are all coming to us for the same service but their reasons for selecting us or needing the service can still be quite diverse. Even more, their service needs are often complicated by feelings and emotional attachments that are unrelated to the service or us.
These are truths well-known to those in the more personal services, such as therapy. Therapists start their work with a thorough consultation and then proceed by having the patient talk even more about the issues they are facing. While their education may lead them to draw certain conclusions, they proceed carefully before jumping to those conclusions. All service providers would do well to take a page from their book.
Listening carefully to a customer’s conversation about their need can give us clues that will lead to our giving them what they really want. For instance, when a woman goes to a hairdresser she is often seeking more than a simple haircut. The look and feel of her hair are part of the image she presents to the world. If, on the day she goes to the salon, she is not feeling particularly attractive, she may also be seeking confirmation that her image is a good one.
I don’t mean to stereotype any one type of person, but a hair style is a pretty clear example of how emotions can be attached to a service. A stylist has nothing to do with anyone’s sense of esteem, but the one that boosts the customer’s feelings is likely to get a return visit faster than the one who cuts the hair without paying attention to the person under the do.
Plumbers and carpenters are working on, and often in, people’s homes. The quality of their work reflects on them, but it can also reflect on the customer’s feelings about their home. There is a form of security that many attach to their plumbing working smoothly that can be shaken when things go awry. The plumber who leaves a mess behind can inadvertently send a disrespectful message to the customer. The carpenter who just slaps a couple of boards together, even when they are located in a place that is not visible, may find that their customer is not satisfied with the result.
The onus for satisfaction always falls on the shoulders of the service provider and how we feel is irrelevant. We are often plagued by the same troubles and emotions as any one else; but we cannot afford the luxury of having them impact the services we provide. When we are having a bad day, it is usually a very good day to listen carefully to the customer’s needs.
Paying attention to the customer’s needs also serves to take our minds off our own troubles as well. Nothing heals a hurt faster than focusing on someone else’s problem. It makes our services better in two ways: focusing attention on the work at hand is the surest way to do a job well and if we have heard the underlying requests that our customer is making, we are more likely to deliver what they really want.