My mother taught me not to place my elbows on the dinner table. My third-grade teacher taught me multiplication tables. A girl named Sheila taught me how to kiss in high school. Of course, my list could ramble on forever—touting the teachings I received from my professors at school, in Europe, and in California. And from there I could talk about skills I was taught and learned as my career evolved. Basically, like you, I’ve been taught and have learned many things.
The other day I was asked a question, however, that struck a nerve and made me ponder: “Ron, when were you taught to serve?”
Interesting question, isn’t it? Somehow one of the most discussed aspects of business— service— has evaded the curriculum of our school systems. Service isn’t a class I took. It’s not a class easily found in grammar school, high school or college. It’s not even required learning in MBA programs. Inside many of the world’s most respected companies, employees receive skills training, safety training, communications training, and all sorts of educational opportunities. These are all important components of employee development, but where is service?
And what happens when we send all these newly trained employees to the front lines of business to interact with your organization’s most important people—your customers—and ask them to provide outstanding service? How can we expect them to excel at something no one has taught them?
Now let’s turn the tables (elbows still clear). Look at the organizations that do teach their employees the real meaning of service and give them the tools and understanding to apply it. Look at how they’ve become industry leaders and icons in business all over the world. There are the obvious players in customer service, such as Nordstrom (JWN), Singapore Airlines, Disney (DIS) and the Ritz Carlton (MAR). And we can spotlight newer companies such as Zappos.com and Starbucks (SBUX). These companies have built stellar brands around the service experience they provide. And as you might imagine, they have intense service education programs to reinforce and continuously improve their service.
Some educational institutions have recently added service to their curricula. Temasek Polytechnic, one of our clients in Singapore, offers students classes on uplifting service to give their graduates a leg up in a service-oriented world, teaching them how to apply service principles in every situation and throughout their careers. Imagine two recent graduates approaching you for a job. One has a degree. The other has the same degree but also understands what service means, to customers and to colleagues, and knows what actions to take that will create value for both.
That’s my definition of service: taking action to create value for someone else. And with that definition, there’s an even bigger picture for us to see when it comes to learning about service. Are we missing something important by focusing only on delighting customers? Should children learn to serve in grammar school—helping classmates or keeping bullies at bay, showing respect for their parents and their teachers?
Would teachers benefit from being better educated in service, embracing their vital role in preparing young people for a world filled with service? Husbands, wives, neighbours and friends? Aren’t we all in service relationships with each other?
The point is, no matter what you do or what position you hold in life, in the office, or in your community—the actions you take are providing service to someone else. In some way, shape or form, it’s your job and your organization’s mission to create, increase, or add value to someone else. And if we’re all going to be in service, shouldn’t we strive to be good at it? Here’s how:
Four Steps to Uplifting Your Service
Study. Read all you can about service. Learn the fundamental principles that rule the world of service in every interaction.
Practice. Start each day intending to give better service to someone else in your life. Each step up makes your service muscles stronger.
Get Feedback. Ask those you serve to tell you how you are doing. What do they like? What would they like you to stop? What ideas do they have for what else you can do to serve them even better?
Benchmark. Observe the service providers all around you, including those who serve you. What do they do wrong? What do they do well? What could they do better? Look and listen carefully, then apply what you learn to what you do. Take another step up.