In 1979, Bob Dylan released the album Slow Train Coming, and one of the stand-out tracks was “Gotta Serve Somebody.”
As usual, Mr. Zimmerman was way ahead of his time. The chorus of the song sings—
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody,
yes indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Truer words have seldom been spoken. Whatever your job is, whatever your family is like, whomever your friends are, you’re at some point “gonna have to serve somebody”.
Customer Service Heroes and Leadership
The desire for good service is deeply rooted in us. We’re wired to help and be helped. We crave connection, support, and service. I see a major convergence between good customer service examples and servant leadership. Servant leaders at work are people who make their employees their main priority and place the well-being of others above everything else, including the organization. In return, the employees trust the leadership and return the commitment to the organization with great work.
If you take that same scenario and substitute “customer” for “employee” (with a little extra editing), you’ll come up with a good customer service definition. Good customer service providers make their customers their main priority and place their well-being above everything else, including their own personal agenda. In return, the customers feel a sense of trust and a need to return the commitment and obligation to their customer service provider and to their organization.
There’s a different kind of relationship between customer service soft skills and servant leadership soft skills. Excellent servant leaders and customer service agents are frequently described as altruistic or selfless—they provide emotional support in tense, angry situations. They share wisdom when they have experience or knowledge to speak from. Leaders and reps alike are persuasive and offer compelling reasons to do things, in large part because they practice great organizational stewardship. This looks like encouraging organizations to play a moral role in society, to function as a community, to see the organization’s potential to contribute to the world, and to make a positive difference.
We also now realize that a leader and a manager are not necessarily the same thing. Anyone, in any role, can be a leader. So anyone, in any role, can also be a servant leader, including folks in customer service, or others who provide services to internal customers.
What do you think? Is it time to re-identify servant leadership as part of your list of advanced customer service skills? Instead of customer service do we, or should we, provide customer servant leadership? When we stand up to talk about what we do, should we say “I serve my customers” instead of “I provide customer service”?
As Mr. Dylan also said, “the times they are a-changin,” and this is a change I’d welcome with open arms.
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