How you meet, greet, and treat a customer is purely a matter of choice. Your own attitude and commitment to care is all that matters.
Like Haley Joel Osment’s character, Cole Sear, in the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense, I see dead people. I notice the way people work: if they like their job; if they express their enthusiasm and joy; if they embody a sense of purpose and pride; if they make a human connection with other people, particularly customers; if they treat their customers as if they truly care about them.
I noticed the young man behind the candy counter of a movie theatre on Oxford Street in Sydney never look into anyone’s eyes, never extend his hand to take their money or return change, never smile, never give any hint of recognising the human beings that stood before him, one after another. Then, his girlfriend stopped by. When he saw her approach, his face lit up and he broke into a huge smile. I watched him become fully present, suddenly alive, engaged and attentive. It was his choice to do so. I realised that how we are with one another is simply a matter of choice. I also realised that customer care and human caring are one and the same.
The whole sector of organisational and business skills development called “customer service” misses the point: we are meant to care for our customers as human beings. Every aspect of conventional customer service philosophy and practice is subsumed in this greater and far grander idea: caring for each other as human beings is how we become fully human.
There is a Zulu word, ubuntu, which literally means “humanness”: caring, sharing and being in harmony with all of creation. Ubuntu is a social and spiritual philosophy whose essential meaning is “a person is a person through other persons”. The practice of ubuntu is fundamentally inclusive, involving respect and concern for one’s family and one’s neighbours. Ubuntu is an exquisitely simple principle of customer service: caring for each human being as a precious friend.
Put aside for a moment everything you have learned in customer service training programs. Put aside every business advantage a glossy customer service philosophy is supposed to deliver. Put aside all ideas of customer experience, customer loyalty and retention, and positive word of mouth. Put aside the very idea of the “customer”.
Just remember two simple principles:
The first principle is to love your work. Work is love made visible, said the poet Kahlil Gibran. Work is where our sense of purpose and the music of our passions intersect to create visible love in the form of work.
The second principle is ubuntu. Imagine what might happen if all the human beings, all the customers, who came in contact with anyone, anywhere in your business organisation — in person, on the phone, via email — were engulfed by the force field of people who love their work and who connect with and care deeply about each person as if they were a most precious friend.
These two principles are not a strategy for business success; they are a strategy for human success. This is, after all, what we all most want: to be fully alive, present, awake, passionate and connected. Business success can only flow from human success. Whatever else you may need to develop within your business to support these two principles — skills, organisational structures, management policies, cultural values — will flow easily and effortlessly from a whole-hearted commitment to these two simple precepts.
Okay, I may not actually see dead people. But I can see that only those business organisations that embrace these two principles will survive, thrive and prosper in the years to come. Why? Because — and I can’t put this more simply or kindly — it is the way things are meant to be.
Robert Rabbin, president of center/SourceSolutions, Inc., is a Melbourne-based executive coach and consultant, keynote speaker, and author of five books and more than 200 articles. He and colleague Sharon Sztar offer Customer Care coaching and training workshops.