I really love it when my faith and my work converge. My faith is always there, of course, but it’s nice when my work allows a specific outlet for my faith. Despite working at a Christian university, I don’t find occasion to contemplate my faith much at work. Slicing and dicing data seems kinda removed from spiritual introspection. There is, however, one area of work that I’ve often tied directly to my own faith–customer service. What follows, I think, not only speaks to customer service specifically, but also more broadly to servant leadership. This post is gonna be a stretch for me, but I hope I am able to shine some light on new ways to consider your customers.
Regardless of your own spiritual outlook, it’s safe to say that the account of Jesus’ "Sermon on the Mount" fully qualifies, at the very least, among the best of so called wisdom literature. If you aren’t familiar with it, the sermon is in the Christian bible, in the book of Matthew. The contents of that particular sermon have been dubbed "The Beatitudes." There are eight bits to the beatitudes and I believe that, taken as a whole, they are probably the best guidance ever given for customer service. I say "taken as a whole" because each of the beatitudes can be overwrought and misapplied when taken out of the context of the whole. The idea here is to view your customers through this lens of the beatitudes. Once you’re able to see your customers through this lens, the next step is to view oneself through the same lens. The inevitable result is a deeper understanding of the common threads of humanity.
Here’s the quick version of the eight beatitudes (if you want to
check it out yourself, the full version of the sermon on the mount
begins in the 5th chapter of Matthew and continues throught 7th
- Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are the meek: for they shall posses the land.
- Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
- Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
- Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
- Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
- Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I think the guts of this post is probably book fodder for somebody,
since I couldn’t find a single reference to the beatitudes as a model
for customer service. Actually, the really interesting book would be the whole Sermon on the Mount as a model for customer service. But the Beatitudes work for a post like this because it’s a list and easily digested. The
meat of this post has already been stated, but to be clear I’ll say it
again: taken as a whole, the beatitudes are a great roadmap to
excellent customer service.
Now I admit, if you aren’t familiar with them, at first glance the beatitudes make it seem like Jesus is advising milquetoast
as a way of life. Upon further reflection and context, however, quite
the opposite is true. In fact, what’s being laid out with the
beatitudes is a philosophy of other-centered attention. It’s really
just the golden rule, expanded.
The "for what it’s worth disclaimer": I have no idea how
theologically correct the following thoughts are, and frankly, I don’t
much care. What follows here are just my own reflections on a powerful bit of wisdom, and how I personally can apply it to work. What I do care about is treating customers with dignity and
respect, and these eight beatitudes pave the way. So let’s run through
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
take on this first beatitude is that we’re all in the same boat.
Though we gain varying degrees of mastery of our jobs, at some level,
if we’re honest, we remain beginners–"poor in spirit". We’re always conscious of the
fact that the more knowledge we have, the less we actually know.
I think the first beatitude speaks pretty well to this sense of
begninner-ness. Further, acknowledging this helps bring us to level
ground with our customers. We know that, despite the imbalance of product knowledge,
we are ultimately equals. And transactions between equals are way more likely to culminate in mutually agreeable results.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall posses the land
The best thing about the beatitudes is how well they dovetail each other. If "poor in spirit" is akin to beginner-ness, then seeing the "meek" in our customers (and selves) is akin to recognizing their (our) sense of humility. Put another way, our customers see us as the experts in our fields, and too often they’re blinded by our brilliance and knowledge. We ought to learn to better recognize our meek customers. When we do, we need to set aside our pride and set aside all our notions of salesmanship. We ought to really try to remember what it’s like to not know the answers. We should be meeting our customers with a shared sense of humility toward the learning curve ahead. If you’ve got "the land" and you want to sell it to your meek customers, then you need to become meek yourself.
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted
This is a funky one. I mean, who’s mourning anyway? From a customer service perspective, I think the mourners are those customers who have given up on the possibility that they won’t be taken advantage of. They’ve been around the block with used car salesmen and they’re tired of being on guard. Their comfort is you–your ability to be authentic and honest. Will you betray the trust of a mourner? Or will you comfort them with your authenticity and warmth of soul?
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill
What’s it mean for a customer to hunger and thirst after justice? I say it means they deeply desire congruency between what you say and what you do. If those two actions are out of whack, the customers will seek out your competitors. If your competitors are out of whack too, your customers are likely to create a company that fills their need. Customers hunger for companies that deliver what they say they’ll deliver, and customers will get their fill, one way or another. Why not serve it up to them?
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy
This has got to be the easiest of the customer service beatitudes to understand. It’s the Golden Rule, rephrased. Show some compassion to your customers and they’ll give it back to you when you need it. In "Love is the Killer App", Tim Sanders mentions how his favorite dry cleaner lost one of his shirts. He showed them mercy by continuing to give them business. Later, when he needed a suit pressed in an hour, they took care of him without complaint. This beatitude, and the Golden Rule, can help create a virtuous cycle that keeps your customers coming back, even when you blow it. And you will blow it sometimes.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God
To be clean of heart is to be open, honest and authentic (that word again!). To be clean of heart is to enter into our transactions with pure motives–and not necessarily pure profit motives! To have a clean heart is to operate from a place of potential vulnerability and risk. Despite the damage that can be done to a clean heart person, more often than not you’ll find a quiet respect for your point of view. To be sure, some will try to take advantage of the clean of heart, but that’s where the next beatitude comes in handy.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God
Well, the peacemaker business sits pretty well with this pacifist Quaker, but beyond the obvious, having the heart of a peacemaker means having a willingness to sacrifice our own convenience for the benefit of others. Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean rolling over for your customer when there’s a problem. Rather, it means hearing their concerns in an ‘active listening‘ kind of way, and having a response that is custom made for them. Being a peacemaker means we’ll take the high road and believe in the honesty of the customer, and at the same time we’ll work toward a mutual understanding of our shared needs.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
There must be a reason this beatitude is last. It seems difficult to understand, let alone apply to customer service. My take here is that this is a reminder to all of us about the sanctity of our customers. They suffer and yet their suffering doesn’t eliminate their constant search for the justice mentioned above. Like the poor, who are always with us, so are the customers. But, despite (or maybe because of) their suffering and searching, the market will reward them. They’ll find what they’re looking for, if not from you, then from elsewhere. Customers aren’t going away, but they might go away from you if you don’t pay attention to the beatitudess of customer service.
So that’s it. I have an odd mixture of smugness and dissatisfaction about these ideas. On one hand, I’m kinda happy about the mental gymnastics that generated this post. On the other hand, I don’t think this is complete. It’s just a corner of a larger picture that’s presented across the whole Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes were relatively easier to work with, strictly in terms of length and soundbite-ness. But the larger Sermon is the true meat of customer service. Maybe I’ll continue this thinking another day. In the meantime, I hope this offered a new perspective for you…