I take customer service as a career seriously.
At two fast-casual restaurants in the past few weeks, I have been “helped” by teenagers who were utterly uninspired. They seemed to be using the fewest words possible. The niceties that they did use – “Hi, how are you today?” and “Have a good day.” – were uttered in an almost laughable monotone, lacking feeling and authenticity.
While I always try to take less than positive encounters with a grain of salt – because you never know what someone else might be struggling with (teenage angst being a very real possibility in this case) – I still worry that these interactions say something about how much work still needs to be done for our society to see a service career as a respectable one.
Doing Service A Disservice
Years ago I worked in a call center. The department was called “customer service.” I know now that the focus of this department was neither customers nor service. All the performance metrics were about quantity, not quality. Procedures for escalation were formulaic and unsatisfying. Being delightful was often frowned upon as it meant longer call times.
I left this job shortly after I graduated from college. This wasn’t the wrong decision for me; what was wrong was the impression of service I came away with. I felt that, for most companies, service departments were an unavoidable necessity. I learned that working in a service role was dehumanizing and valueless. This company revealed to me then what is still generally true now, companies rarely value service.
Fortunately, there are some signs that businesses are moving in the right direction. Thanks to social media, which has given customers a louder voice, many companies are acknowledging the importance of getting customer interactions right.
Software as a Service (SaaS) companies, are at the forefront of this movement. This is mostly due to subscription sales model SaaS companies rely upon. In the SaaS world, customers must find continued value in order to decide to renew their subscriptions. Because software is inherently more complex than other subscription services, SaaS customer service employees are uniquely positioned to make or break whether customers perceive value. In solving customers’ problems and educating customers on how to get the best value out of the software, SaaS service employees directly influence whether customers renew month after month or year after year. With this much revenue at stake, customer service departments at SaaS companies have become a home for people with a passion for giving good service where they can make a lucrative wage.
Becoming Part Of The Revolution
When I interviewed at SurveyGizmo for a technical writer role, I remember being caught off guard by the interview questions about service . I am more than a little embarrassed to say this is because I didn’t see service as a valuable skill. I was interviewing for a position to write technical documentation which I would obviously write for customers. But it honestly didn’t occur to me that service would be something I would need to succeed in the role. I blame this on my previous experience in service roles that were not valued. Luckily service is in my blood, otherwise, I would have failed those interview questions.
Service is a skill; just like computer programming is a skill. As with all skills, both can be learned but some people are wired for service and some are wired for computer programming. Both are valuable. This is one of two realizations I came to as a result of working for SurveyGizmo.
Shortly after I began working at SurveyGizmo I had a second realization. I remember asking for permission to do something for a customer. I don’t recall the exact words, but the response was very matter of fact, even a little annoyed. Of course I should do what would make the customer happy! What a startling realization! I was empowered to give good service!
I took a meandering path to get to my role as Documentation Coordinator at SurveyGizmo. I am very lucky to have received a second chance at service. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that 1) I love having meaningful interactions with customers and 2) I can get paid well to do it.
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.
The Revolution Needs You!
I am grateful to SurveyGizmo for helping me to see the light. I only wish I had seen it sooner. Unfortunately, there are many more service jobs out there than there are companies that value good service.
This is why I want to shout through the drive-thru speaker at the lackadaisical teenager taking my order:
“The revolution needs you! Service is a valuable and respectable skill and can be cultivated into a career.”
I’m not arguing that you should set out to work for the rest of your life at the restaurant that hired you at 16. I’m simply arguing that you see your first service role as the beginning of the rest of your career. You are in fact in a very important role, whether the company values it or not. You are interacting with customers, you are often representing a brand, and you are building your service chops.
Honing Your Service Career
There is no school, major, or degree for customer service. You’ll have to be resourceful if you want to learn about great service. Many thought leaders at companies that give great service write blogs that you can check out. There are companies like Disney, Zappos, and Zingerman’s that conduct customer service training. Disney, Zappos, Nordstrom, and the Ritz-Carlton have great books about service. All of these are great places to start.
What is most valuable, if you are passionate about good service is doing it! It should come quite natural if you haven’t been brainwashed (wink) not to do it. If you already have a service job start by focusing on each and every interaction. Cast off the script – if god forbid, there is one – and try to connect with each customer. Be yourself and create something meaningful. You’ll learn a lot and will come away with a very marketable skill!
 Some great customer service blogs:
- HelpScout https://www.helpscout.net/blog
- GrooveHQ https://www.groovehq.com/support
- Support Driven https://supportdriven.com/blog/
 My favorite books about service:
- Zingerman’s Guide To Giving Great Service by Ari Weinzweig
- Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles
Bri Hillmer is the Survey Sorceress/Documentation Coordinator at SurveyGizmo. An Ohioan at heart, bri wound up in Colorado by way of DC where she honed her skills in survey sorcery redesigning a fancy gubbermint survey that collected very crucial data on very weighty things. At SurveyGizmo she continues to use her powers of sorcery for good writing how-to documentation. Read more inspiring blogs from bri over at KnowledgeOwl. Find her on Google+ and LinkedIn. Check out her documentation at: Help and Developer Resources