Everyone knows that good customer service is a critical ingredient to business success (excluding your local cable company, whose quasi monopoly enables sadistic abuse of customers with impunity).
But client service is often viewed as a chore—as a sort of unappetizing “health food” that has to be tolerated to achieve some other goal: keeping a key account, upselling a project, fueling word-of-mouth growth, etc.
That assumption is fundamentally misguided and blinds us as professionals from seeing how our day-to-day jobs can satisfy our deeply human needs to help other people and find joy in collective successes.
I’ve thought a lot about client service over the last few years and wanted to share a few of my observations and ideas as I aim to build an organization that truly embodies this authentic commitment to service—starting with my own mindset and behavior.
1. Service is its own reward.
The older mentors and friends I admire most—those with meaningful lives and grateful hearts—all genuinely derive satisfaction and joy from the successes of others and the role they can play in achieving them. That’s who we want to become, and as professionals we have the opportunity to model those wise, compassionate people every day through how we treat clients and the meaning we assign to our work. Business is both an education and a stage—an extraordinary platform for cultivating patience, sacrifice and humility and then demonstrating those values.
2. Service takes practice.
The drive to help other people is innate but still needs to be nurtured. I personally am often guilty of allowing ego or ambition to exert undue influence over my thinking, and it’s something I actively work to improve. When it’s late in the day and a client disagrees with a strategy I’m recommending, I don’t always remember that the point of what I’m doing is to serve others and can become frustrated or impatient.
But every day teaches, and as long as the intent is there and a mechanism for accountability is in place, our capacity for demonstrating service expands. And as that happens—as our definition of success is calibrated to align with a service-driven mindset—we tap into a source of motivation far more powerful, sustainable and rewarding than the pursuit of status or wealth.
3. The goal is to serve, not always to please.
Good doctors don’t write prescriptions for Xanax just because a patient asks for it. Bad doctors that do are guided by their thirst for money or a distorted view of service that conflates helping other people with popularity or winning approval. Good servants are not “yes-men.”
4. Service requires excellence.
It’s impossible to deliver outstanding service if you don’t possess the competency or skill to deliver what your customer was sold. Endless “check in” calls or comped tickets to sporting events don’t mask the fact that if you can’t fulfill the promises made to a client, you are not serving them well. Excellence in a craft and authentic service to others go hand-in-hand.
5. Make sure to take care of your team and yourself. Step one: don’t work with jerks.
This approach requires a stomach for declining business from organizations or individuals that fail to treat others with basic decency or respect—even if they pay well. Perhaps a few saints can sustain an unwavering heart for service even in the face of consistent maltreatment, but few mortals can. If you force your team (or yourself) to work with toxic clients, they’re going to get disillusioned with the whole “service for its own sake” thing—which will spill over into how even the best customers or partners are treated. Be forgiving, understand people have bad days, but show the same compassion and concern for your team and colleagues as you do for anyone else.
As the great Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Talking about a commitment to service is easy. The hard part is consistently living the value through the stresses of the work week and the inevitable challenges that arise in client projects. I firmly believe the only way to sustain a high level of service over the long-term is to authentically, intrinsically derive happiness from the act itself.