Zach’s Blog

Customers are humans too


“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali

How do you know that someone cares about you?

If you are like any other person, you probably started thinking about things like: “they smile at me,” “they show me attention,” “they listen to me,” and so on.

Now, here is my customer service training in eight words: Now, in your jobs, go do those things.

Customer service is as simple as that. Or is it? Maybe not.

Organizations outsource customer service faster than almost any other service, spend a collective $92 billion on it, and still struggle to provide it well. Why?

I think it’s because we have forgotten the very simple fact that customers are humans too.

The Customer is Not Always Right

There, I said it. We, in the customer service industry (which is you, if you are breathing oxygen and thinking rationally) have been falling back on this century-old axiom to describe how organizations should interact with customers. The problem, with the entire concept is simple: It is impossible for the customer to always be right.

Consider the logic by which we have trained hundreds of thousands of employees:

The customer is always right.

Are humans always right? No.

Then, customers are not humans.

Wait, hold on, that is not logical!

The above logical dilemma underlies how we have been training and developing employees to deliver customer service for the past century. In a sense, we have been training people to inherently believe that customers are not humans.

The proliferation of the word “customer” itself to describe the humans we serve in a more quantifiable term is a clear example of the effort to clinically distance ourselves from those who use our products and services.

“Customer” is derived from the Latin word consuetudinarius or custom, which means “habit, usage, made to measure or order.” Many organizations and leaders have actively decided to quantify, measure, and use those who need and want their products and services for measureable results (namely, profit) rather than serving human beings well to inspire those results.

The overuse of the time-tested, misunderstood slogan, “the customer is always right,” in service training programs around the globe is evidence that customers have become some “thing” to be dealt with, rather than humans to be served.

The phrase itself was born in the burgeoning retail department store and luxury hotel craze in the early 1900s and was pioneered by the hotelier César Ritz, who said, “If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked.”

The saying, which gained traction ever since, was coined to deal with customer complaints, and not to serve people. When we “deal with” people rather than serve them, they become what we inadvertently define them as: Distant obstacles to achieving results (namely, profit) that need to be “dealt with.”

Common Purpose: Customer Human Service

Anyone who is reading these words holds a shared, common purpose and that purpose lies in the fact that every industry, field, or organization has a human being just like you and me at the end of its supply chain. This truth unites us across economic borders as the common purpose of our existence: To serve other people.

When we start with the purpose of serving people first, and when we get to know those people as the humans they are, we, and our organizations can thrive. Serving others isn’t reserved to the “human services” field, it’s our basic nature.

Serving others to inspire success is not just an opinion, its science. The Corporation for National and Community Service found that, even after controlling for preexisting health conditions, people who served and supported others regularly throughout their lifetime simply lived longer than those who did not. Additionally, in a longitudinal study on aging, individuals with a mindset and attitude toward serving others indicated lessening feelings of despair and depression over their lifetime.

As individuals, when we have a mindset toward the service of others, we’re happier and we live longer. The same must be true of organizations since organizations are just individuals who organize. Employees in any area of an organization, if focused on serving others, will be happier and ultimately, a collective sense of service leads to a longer collective, organizational life.

Is Your Organization Built to Last?

Within the current landscape of virtual interaction, increased parity amongst competition and industry, and heightened scrutiny over where humans spend resources, organizations are feeling the pressure of self-definition and distinction. The time is now to re-define our customer service efforts by refocusing on the amazing, complex, beings we are and serve: humans.

By transforming our view of customers, and by serving them as human beings first, we unleash the uniquely human ability to create long-lasting, dynamic, social, and emotional connections that foster happiness, fulfillment, and ultimately loyalty to our organizations. A renewed focus on human service also forces us to peer into the mirror at the creators of these connections: ourselves.

Charlie Chaplin once said, “We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery.”

Reflecting critically upon the humanness of your organization’s customer service philosophy and delivery methods start by asking a simple question: Do we all serve people first, and do we serve them well?

– Zach

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