Most of us live in a predominantly service-oriented economy. Whether as service provider or customer, that little thing called service touches our lives on a daily basis. And we all react to it in different ways. It informs us of who we are, of even who we should date. Really?! Read on…

I’d wager that many of you reading this article are yourself employed in the service industry. If you sell, consult, train, troubleshoot, design, fix, create, work for government or in any way, shape or form render a product, skill or trade to the satisfaction of a client then you work in the service industry. Make that most of you reading this article. Service is our collective umbilical cord.

Service saturates our lives. Far too often it is the lack of service that saturates our lives. Indifferent service, rude service, bad service, crap service – you name it, anyone living in the daily hell of the service economy has suffered it. Being unfair or overly melodramatic, am I? Okay, so when last did you get friendly, helpful service from a government department? Banking these days is a real joy, is it not? When last did you fly economy and actually enjoy every bit of it?

Still think I’m overstating the state of service, perhaps?  Then let me give you my simple theory about good service: the true measurement of service is not when all goes your way but when I present you with a problem or curveball. Then the honesty of your service will reveal itself. A great waitress is not when she’s all smiles as she rattles off the daily specials but how she handles when I ask her twice to give me another few minutes to decide what to order. Does she bristle or does she accept my delays with grace? Extrapolate that to how the ground crew handle my seat having been double-booked or the hotel check-in when I ask to be moved because I don’t want a room next to the pool. That’s what service is about.

It is stunning how many companies who offer services do so as if they’re doing me a big bloody favour. Ross Perot was spot on when he stated how, “Spend a lot of time talking to customers face to face. You’d be amazed how many companies don’t listen to their customers”. How true! Modern technology has created an even greater divide between customer/client and service provider. What of those insufferable online or phone menu options we all love so much, anyone? Even so, there is no denying that the public and some clients can be monumental pains in the ass. And, you may be surprised to hear me say this, but the customer is not always right. Not a chance. Customers/clients can be unreasonable, unduly difficult or downright rude. Your designation as client does not give you the right to be abusive.

What of my opening statement that service informs us of who we are? I believe implicitly in that. Hear me out. What are your expectations of service? Are you okay with just the fundamentals being done and have low expectations of the service rendered? Or are you demanding of the service you get? And how do you react to bad service? Do you take it with the flow and does it take a lot for you to lose your cool with bad service? Or do you get angry and even a little ballistic? I am firmly of the latter camp on both counts. For me, service is all about respect and how you value me at that specific time for that specific purpose. Give me great service and I’m a puppy who could declare my undying love to you, such is my appreciation. Give me bad service, and I’ll make Hannibal Lechter look like a basically nice guy with an eating disorder.

I also made the bold statement at the beginning that service can inform us of who we should date. An OTT-sounding assertion, but consider this: if you are a basically happy-go-lucky-takes-a-lot-to-upset-me type of customer, then do you really want to be dating a guy who rages at bad service and makes a scene of Oscar-winning proportions when the waiter gets his order wrong for the third time? And what if it’s the converse? Another simple test: are you the person who tends to get all embarrassed or hate it when a person complains loudly in public? Or are you the guy who smiles knowingly and thinks, ‘For sure, give them hell!’? Now imagine who you’d want at your side once you’ve deliberated which service personality type you are. Make sense?

Service can be tough, for customer and provider alike. Your rights as a customer are not absolute. And rendering a service need not feel like selling out your soul. As Laurie McIntosh wryly comments, “You are serving a customer, not a life sentence”. Service is all around us, and says a lot about us. This I do believe: be demanding – whether as customer or service provider.