August 31, 2014

Customer Care is Human Care.


Like Haley Joel Osment’s character, Cole Sear, in the 1999 movie “The Sixth Sense,” I see things.

I don’t see dead people, like he did, but I see things. Rather, I notice things. I notice the way in which people work: I notice if they like their work; if they are happy to be on the job; if they express their enthusiasm and joy; if they embody a sense of purpose and pride; if they make a human connection with other people, particularly customers; if they treat their customers as if they truly care about them.

Last week, I noticed that the young man behind the candy counter of the movie theatre never looked into the eyes of anyone, never extended his hand to take their money or return change, never smiled, never gave any hint of recognizing the human beings that stood before him, one after another. Then, his girlfriend stopped by to chat him up. When he saw her approach, his face lit up and he broke into a huge smile.

I watched him become fully present, suddenly alive, engaged, and attentive. In my view, the young man was not a puppet of circumstances. That is, he could choose how to be. He could be surly or friendly, present or withdrawn, acknowledging or ignoring. His choice. My choice. Your choice. How we are with one another is simply a matter of choice.

I also noticed that customer care and human caring are the same thing.

The whole sector of organizational and business skills development called “customer service” misses the point: we are meant to care for our customers as human beings, because that caring creates the context for elevated living, for meaning, delight and joy. Every aspect of conventional customer service philosophy and practice ought to be subsumed in this greater and far grander idea: caring for each other as human beings is how we become fully human. Forget customers. Remember humans.

There is a Zulu word, ubuntu, which literally means “humanness”: caring, sharing and being in harmony with all of creation. Ubuntu is a social and spiritual philosophy whose essential meaning is “a person is a person through other persons.”

The practice of ubuntu is fundamentally inclusive, involving respect and concern for one’s family and one’s neighbors. The spirit of this word and idea is that everyone is a member of one’s family and is one’s neighbor. Extending this as metaphor to the business world, every human being on the planet is one’s customer. Ubuntu is an exquisitely simple principle of customer service: caring for each human being as a precious friend.

Put aside for a moment everything you have learned in customer service training programs. Put aside every business advantage a glossy customer service philosophy is supposed to deliver. Put aside all ideas of customer experience, customer loyalty and retention, and positive word of mouth. Put aside the very idea of “customer.”

Just remember two simple principles:

The first principle is to love your work. “Work is love made visible,” said the poet, Kahlil Gibran. Work is where our sense of purpose and the music of our passions intersect to create visible love in the form of work.

The second principle is ubuntu. Is there an experience in life more profound, more beautiful, more exhilarating than the deep connection made between two human beings meeting on the ground of ubuntu, meeting with the pure intention to share, care and be in harmony? It is, to be sure, compelling inspiring and memorable.

Imagine what might happen if all the human beings, all the customers, who came in contact with anyone, anywhere in your business organization—in person, on the phone, via email—were engulfed by the force field of people who love their work and who connect with and care deeply about each person as if they were a most precious friend.

These two principles are not a strategy for business success, they are a strategy for human success. This is, after all, what we all most want: to be fully alive, present, awake, passionate and connected to the core of our humanity. Business success can only flow from human success. Whatever else you may need to develop within your business to support these two principles—skills, organisational structures, management policies, cultural values—will flow easily and effortlessly from a whole-hearted commitment to these two simple precepts.

I may not see dead people, but I can see that only those business organizations which embrace these two principles, which teach and practice these two principles, will survive, thrive and prosper in the years to come. Why? Because—and I can’t put this more simply or kindly—it is the way things are meant to be.



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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wiki Commons

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