The Servant Leadership of Client Service

By David McCuistion

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

While standing in the check-out line at the supermarket, I listened as a lady in line ahead of me was explaining some customer service techniques and skills a young female checker needed to improve her expertise: “greet people, smile, and be positive, she said.”

The young checker never responded, either verbally or non-verbally.

I whispered to the lady, “They don’t teach them customer service skills.” She said, “I know; that is why I do it.”

Service is a Commitment

Joan Maddox, VP of Client Services for School Dude, says, “Client service must be reliable, responsive, reassuring, and empathetic.” She stresses that client service is a commitment and that it must not be an option but a requirement of your job.

In her Client Service presentations, Maddox quotes Dr. Leonard L. Berry, who is a Distinguished Professor of Marketing and a former Texas A&M Professor.

Dr. Berry says this about customer expectations: “While the young lady did at least greet me verbally as I paid for my goods, she remained expressionless and failed to even express gratitude for shopping at her store.”

“Customer expectations of service organizations are loud and clear; look good, be responsive, be reassuring through courtesy and competence, be empathetic but, most of all, be reliable. Do what you said you would do. Keep the service promise.”

Great Client Service Example

Servanthood Attitude

Customer service, customer relations, and client services, regardless of how you brand them, can either positively or negatively affect revenue, organizational vision, and customer attitude toward the organization.

In fact, if you are a customer service representative, then “you are” the company or organization you represent. As such, there is a “servanthood” attitude that must be portrayed in every exchange you have with a client.

J C Penny, the founder of JC Penny Company, is famous for saying, “The customer is always right.”

His idea was that customer service is priority one at JC Penny. CEO Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, Colleen Barrett, always said about her company, “We are a Client Service Company, we just happen to fly airplanes.”

Leadership Skills

Client service is a leadership skill that must be trained, practiced, and perfected to ensure employees represent the company in the brightest pane possible.

Servanthood is a major aspect of client service, which says that one is “serving” the needs of others. Using Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership ideals, “serving” in this context means “to make them better” than they were when the encounter began.

In other words, “healing” the customer’s stress and pain while relieving them of their perceived burden is a characteristic of quality client service.

The following are from my experience of over 40 years of providing client service:

Top 5 Client Service Principles

1. Establish a Client Service Vision

If the company vision and/or mission statement says, you will focus on client service, then establish a program that ensures you will do what you say. Follow the practice of Southwest Airlines: “Hire people with a ‘servants’ heart.

Client service representatives need to care about fostering and promoting the vision and/or mission of the company.

Establish standards for those you place in client service positions: caring attitude, cheerful and happy demeanor,  and outgoing personality. Good communication skills, being respectful and gracious.

I recommend a client service motto that will not only tell the customers your attitude about providing superior service but also remind representatives of company expectations.

In my last position, our Custodial Services Motto was the following, “Client Service is our Purpose, Quality Service is our Goal.”

We used the motto in our standards and at the end of all our communications. Everyone in the organization knew our standards and our goal of providing superior customer service.

2. Establish a Client Service Training Program

Train new employees, and re-train periodically current customer service reps on the visionary expectations. Servanthood is the “practice” of serving.

Teach the common behaviors of client service representatives: telephone etiquette, conflict resolution techniques, and skills to develop an attitude to resolve the problem to make a positive impression on the customer and impress upon employees to not take the customer’s anger and negativity personally.

Keep the quest alive to resolve the customer’s complaint.

Client Service expert Glen Hamilton advises, “Create Happy Employees. Employee beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors determine the quality of the customer service provided. Happy employees create happy customers.”

3. Establish Relations with Customers

Shawn E. Gilleylen, author of “Success with Etiquette: Books of Etiquette,” explains the importance of etiquette toward customers – “make customers feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated.

Treat them with respect, empathy, and efficiency.” She also says, which I call most important, “Say “Thank you” and “Please” graciously.

4. Monitor and Evaluate their Performance

Leaders must proactively monitor and evaluate customer relations practices in action – inspecting what you expect is a proven leadership principle.

Glen Hamilton maintains that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; the same is for leaders.

He suggests several ways to measure customer satisfaction, including surveys, telephone contacts, customer feedback forms, and observing employees to ensure they are functioning within prescribed customer service standards.

5. Maintain Client Service Pride

Recognize employees who demonstrate customer service excellence, who are recognized by customers for superior performance, and who promote company goals within Customer Service missions.

Advertise the recognition through company newsletters. Create a “Customer Service Plaque” and hang it in the main entrance area of the company for everyone to see.

Serving Others First

Customer service is “serving” others first. When customers walk out the main entrance of your company fully satisfied, everyone feels good about their accomplishments.

Maintaining company servanthood is vitally important to organizational success.

How Should Leaders Handle Client Service?

If you have ideas about client service that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

David McCuistion
David McCuistion
David is a retired Naval Officer with extensive leadership and management experience including Officer-in-Charge of a major communication facility, in secondary education teaching leadership, and over five years public speaking on Servant Leadership and organizational development topics.
  • Ramdeo choudhary says:

    All the ideas are quite helpful towards maintaining excellent
    customer service and satisfaction, but what comes into the way of seamless execution of ideas is EGO which also must be addressed through various company forums, talks, discussions and debates in order to ensure that the hardest shell of it gets chipped off from the mind of the employees. This is relevant in the present time where every one is rushed up always to become something, somebody even at the cost of others including environment.

  • David McCuistion says:

    Your are correct Ramdeo, working around Ego problems is a tough task for leaders. However, proactive leaders engage and mentor to prevent ego from getting in the way in the promotion of superior customer service.

    Thank you for your comment.

  • The post contains some valid points when we talk about providing excellent customer service. Business leaders need to leverage their position to set the vision and focus for service initiatives. A powerful service vision will stimulate your teams’ ambition and will reflect through their commitment to serve. This workshop on seven rules of service leadership ( ) will give you more clarity on the role of leaders in establishing a customer service vision.

  • Tia Okeefe says:

    These are helpful to practice and to go over often as people get in a pattern of behavior.

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