When will business get this? Service isn’t a piece of the pie, it is the pie.

“You’ll need to go to Customer Service.”

The other day I looked down at my slippers, they were showing a few holes and were starting to get a bit stinky. It all led to the realization that they had finally given all they had. So I ordered some new ones online for pick up at the store.

Within the hour, I received an email that my new ones were waiting for me so I went to pick them up. Once there, a young lady scanned the barcode in my email, went in a back room, and returned with my nice, new slippers.

Before leaving though, I wanted to make sure they fit. I tried them on and they were a little tight. They’re slippers, they’re supposed to be roomy, fitting like a glove isn’t exactly what you want in a slipper, at least that’s not what I want. Anyway, I asked if I could swap them for a larger size. “Of course,” came the reply, “just take them to the checkout counter and tell them you want to exchange them.”

As instructed, I went to the checkout counter, told my story, and was told I had to go to Customer Service. So, reluctantly, I walked around the store in search of Customer Service since the lady at the register just pointed in a direction.  Once I found it, I approached the counter and told my story. The young lady told me I could just go and get the right pair and then make a simple exchange. I told her I didn’t know where to look. I had ordered online and picked them up. A little annoyed, she agreed to leave the confines behind her counter and walk me around the store in search of my slippers. When she couldn’t find them either, she radioed for help from the right person. “Okay,” I thought, “a little service, finally.”

Well, after a few moments, the right person, the one who manages the men’s shoes and clothing, came and led me directly where I needed to go. She helped me find the exact thing I was looking for. I tried them on, went back to the Customer Service counter and made the exchange. No fuss.

Now, why this tale of woe? This story defines exactly what’s wrong with how service is viewed in most companies. It is an afterthought instead of the key thought.

In my mind, service is simply helping people to achieve things. Great service does it with kindness, expertise, and as much removal of obstacles and effort as possible.  

The problem is that few seem to get that until the customer asks or pleads for it and sometimes not even then. But what is the purpose of business? Isn’t it to serve? Isn’t it to help people? Isn’t that what businesses are for? People, customers, come to businesses for help. They buy things to help them with any number of tasks, projects, or needs. In my case, I needed something comfortable to keep my feet warm when I am relaxing at home.

However, somewhere in the bowels of this company, no one is making the we-are-here-to-help-people concept a priority. Somewhere in the bowels of this company, it was decided, like too many companies, that service should be a role or job function rather than the number one, non-negotiable cultural value that supports its fundamental purpose.

And nothing screams the reality of this misguided thinking more than Customer Service Departments. I often laugh when I am told “you need to go to Customer Service.” It makes me want to get out a bullhorn and ask this question, “If this counter is customer service, what is everybody else doing?”

Business desperately needs to get a handle on its real purpose of serving others and then redesign everything by putting those they serve first. Right now, for most companies, service is seen as only a part of what they do when the real need is for service to be what they do with everything else being a part of it. I say get rid of service departments and service counters and instead build service companies. That’s what we customers need and want.

Now, what leaders will stand up and make that change? I challenge you. If you are a business leader, do it, make service your priority. Make everything service. Make serving those who come to your business for help what you do instead of an afterthought or necessary evil. Instead of service being a piece of the pie, make service the pie.

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