July 2009

Service Goes Both Ways


I’ve been thinking lately about “customer service,” having had several truly disappointing and frustrating experiences. From airlines to office supplies to restaurants to — well, I’ll skip the rest of the list. The point is that all too often there is a lack of “service” in many businesses.

Literally, the dictionary definition was perhaps fulfilled, as in this one: “Employment in duties or work for another.” The person showed up for work and did their duties, which apparently were to deal with the customer and move on to the next one. Put the stuff somewhere, collect the money; deal with the line-up. But is that really “service”?

The Baha’i Faith teaches that an action performed in the spirit of true service is a form of prayer. To serve from the heart, not because I must but because I want to, because I see nobility and intrinsic worthiness in the other person and in what I am doing for them — THAT is service. Unfortunately, history has often aligned the word “service” with “servitude” in the sense of slavery rather than in being a goal towards which one strives.

Our Writings have extensive examples about service, at times in everyday terms such as: “Help to make them feel at home; ask if you may render them any service; try to make their lives a little happier.” Wow! What would happen if a sales clerk thought of the store as a home where my comfort and happiness were important? What if a helpdesk person really wanted to satisfy my concerns and not just scuttle off to the next caller? What is the employee actually cared whether I returned or not? What if an airline valued my time?

Last weekend I was at the Farmers’ Market and waited a long time at an extremely busy food vendor. When the vendor finished with the customer in front of me, she turned her back and took a bite from a sandwich. One part of me thought, “Hey, I’m next, I’ve been waiting, eat on your own time.” And then I decided just to relax. When she turned back to me, still chewing her food, I told her I didn’t mind waiting another moment, that she probably needed the break and deserved to keep her own nourishment up for her hectic day. She gratefully smiled, and we ended up having a nice chat about local shopping and dealing with stresses of the marketplace. I got home maybe 5 minutes later that I would have, and frankly I enjoyed the market more than usual after that.

That experience reminded me that there is also a flip-side to this, when I, as a customer, can reciprocate. It may require me to be patient, to realize the other person may be having a tough day or have just finished with another customer who was rude, abrupt or just plain difficult. However, if I really want to be of service, and the other person is trying, then surely there are times when I can serve the one who otherwise serves me.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2009