THE BLOG
01/25/2016 10:39 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2017

Having A Servant's Mentality in Customer Service

Hard work is called that for a reason, because it's hard. And I've gotten to where I am because I've done a lot of it. But it wasn't all just me -- I had a lot of help along the way. From people mentoring me, to advising me, to lending a helping hand, there have been a lot of people who have helped me to become who I am. But when your elevator ride reaches the top, it's important to send the elevator back down for the next person.

Business is about people serving people, not companies or the bottom line. And a key to leadership is having a servant's mentality. Asking others how can you help them or what can you do for them goes beyond simply serving their needs, but builds the foundation that lasting relationships are built upon.

If having a servant mentality sounds easy, then I ask you: why do so many companies fail at basic customer service? It's because lack of time, success, ego, and other excuses got in the way. We forget birthdays, anniversaries, or simply paying it forward with kindness. And when we do, lame excuses and pithy "I'm sorrys" are said, and nothing is ever actually changed.

Thinking big and act bigger means forgoing those self-imposed limitations and excuses, and dedicating the time to living a servant mentality. Take every opportunity you can to send gifts, and thoughtful ones at that. And if gifts are out of your budget, a card and a stamp or a phone call go a long way, too.

When it comes to your customers, they're the blood of your business. They keep it flowing and alive. If you're not treating them with a servant's mentality, what are you doing? Use a CRM software and document important information, like children's names and birthdates, anniversary's and important work dates. Then, when you call them up on a special day and surprise them with a simple 'congratulations' message, or send them flowers for their birthday - you're building a relationship that will last for years.

There was a time when one of our clients was celebrating a birthday. I knew this, because not only am I connected with them on LinkedIn but I also track information like that in my personal calendar. This person and I knew each other quite well, so I sent him a purple terrycloth bathrobe. Why? Because I could. This was two years ago, and that purple terrycloth bathrobe is still being talked about.

Your team is another group of people who deserve your servant mentality. In his book Waiter Rant, Steve Dublanica offers "40 Tips on How to Be a Good Customer." Tip number 40 is, "If you can't afford to leave a tip, you can't afford to eat in the restaurant. Stay home." When it comes to your team, I have similar advice -- if you can't afford to serve your people, you don't deserve to have them in your business. Get out.

It's not about annual bonuses or company-funded trips; it's about the little things, too. Like being to meetings on time, responding to emails quickly, and having their back when emergencies arise. Serving your team shows how you want to be served and shows them how to serve their customers, too.

Dave Pottruck, former CEO of Charles Schwab, knows just how important having a servant mentality is towards leading a team. In 2004, Schwab's board of directors blamed Pottruck for the drop in stock prices after the first dotcom bubble burst. After talking with his wife and leadership coach, Pottruck called his assistant of 15 years -- who happened to be in the car with her family on the way to vacation. She turned the car around, went to the office, and quit. It didn't matter that she was the breadwinner in the family, she knew Pottruck would take care of her and while he looked for something, she would take care of him. They stuck it out together, and she is still with Pottruck to this day. Having a dedicated servant mentality leads to loyalty, the kind that doesn't fade away.

In fostering and maintaining a servant mentality with your customers and team, you're in turn having the same mentality with your business. Serve your business well, and the team who takes care of your business, and your business will in return serve you well.