In Far Eastern countries, service is a way of life -- deeply ingrained into the fabric of their culture and enriching nearly every aspect of life with their wisdom. Western culture foolishly has a tendency to forgo true service in the interest of the "bottom line."
When I travel to Asia for business, it's customary to spend hours sipping tea and getting to know our hosts long before any talk of business arises. When business matters are approached, all concerned parties proceed confidently and harmoniously, pleased and reassured by the knowledge that they are making a decision that's best for their customers and business interests.
I recently attended an estate sale of one of my friends. The woman in charge of the sale was negotiating with customers over the price of various artifacts belonging to the estate. A man approached her with an offer to buy two pieces of art at a discounted rate. Reluctantly, the woman agreed, but not before taking pains to make the man feel as though she were doing him a favor. She made it clear that she was less than pleased with their transaction, as the "value" (which is actually set by the market rather than the seller) of the pieces were far higher than the price the customer agreed to pay. Further, she refused to pack the pieces after the purchase and treated the man like discarded reptile skin.
I was flabbergasted by the woman's treatment of her customer and her impression of good customer service. The woman had agreed to take the man's offer. What could compel her to then mistreat the man after he'd made his purchase? Without a doubt, the net worth of the financial transaction would be the same whether she treated the man with gratitude or attitude. Why choose attitude?
It occurred to me that the woman's actions were a self-serving power play. By power play, I mean an opportunity for her to exploit her position of power and, in turn, giving her an ego boost. It was clear that her actions were based on emotion rather than logic. Could this have been one of those circumstances where someone who has no control in other areas of their life was taking advantage of the one area of their life where they did have power? Is this the basis of poor customer service in Western cultures?
Fast forward a week later where I had called my Internet service provider and complained about the lack of active service in my area. The customer service person agreed to waive the monthly service charge. To my surprise, she then made it clear that "they will not do it again" and that it was "a one-time courtesy." Why make this point when I was not at fault? Paying for services implies a contract with the provider. Merely fulfilling the contract is the basest of duties for the provider. Once again, the net result of my foray with customer service is that they waived the service fee. Why would they make it a point to scold me for helping them improve their service? Less bad attitude and more gratitude for my continued business is plainly the logical course of action. Our country is home to several business that are the greatest in the world at customer service, however as the economy has suffered so has the service in many places. Sadly, we may now be full of businesses who have employed customer service tactics akin to the attitudes of ungrateful pre-teens.
Mahatma Ghandi may say it most eloquently:
A customer is the most important visitor on our premises.
He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.
He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it.
He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it.
We are not doing him a favour by serving him.
He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so.
Coming from a place of consistently excellent service is a function of intelligent decision making. It costs nothing to adopt an attitude of gratitude, but results in dividends paying exponentially. Mature Asian cultures have understood this for millennia. In my book The Brain That Changes Everything : The Ultimate Guide To Accelerating Your Brain I discuss several new technologies for making more intelligent decisions.
Not only is it culturally appropriate to respect and serve your customer, in the long term it's in your own self-interest to come from a place of complete service and gratitude. Loyalty and service are often reciprocated. Kindness and graciousness create fanatic fans that will promote and patronize your business for a life-time.