Caring for Customer Service Workers

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Imagine your car is having some engine problems. You drive to the repair shop and leave it in the capable hands of the repair technicians. As you peruse the magazines in the waiting room, a repair technician comes out to you with the bad news: your car’s engine is worse than they thought. The original problem not only remains, but during the repair an unforeseen accident occurred and now the car’s engine problems are worse.

You can’t believe what you are hearing. What was supposed to be a routine repair has turned into an inconvenient nightmare. Your mind races as you think of how to break the news to your spouse and that your family will need to dip in your savings to cover the steep price tag. You can’t believe the so-called “professionals” you trusted failed to deliver on their promise. In your frustration and anger, you unload all your pent-up emotions onto the service technicians and demand that something be done immediately to rectify the situation.

Does this scenario sound familiar? These negative customer interactions occur frequently, and all of us have probably reacted in a similar way towards a service worker.

Maybe you complained to a waiter after a poor dining experience. Maybe you blew up at a customer service employee while trying to fix a bill over the phone. Perhaps something important you own (such as a car, phone or, computer) stopped working and the technician did not perform the repair as fast as you liked.

When you have such experiences, how do you respond to the person who was trying to help you?

The Imago Dei of Service Workers

When we have these interactions, we need to remember that many service workers are part-time employees who work for little pay. For many, their jobs pay just enough for school, rent, and bills. Dealing with difficult or angry customers can add significant stress and pressure to an already difficult job. Both Christians and non-Christians are guilty of being the difficult customer in the customer interaction.

But, as Christians, we should interact differently with all people – including service workers. We believe that each person has been created in the image of God, or Imago Dei (Genesis 1:26-27). Since everyone shares this image, we are called to love and treat all people equally – including service workers.

As Christians, we should interact differently with all people – including service workers.

Barriers to Loving Service Workers

Why do many of us have such a difficult time putting this principle into practice with service workers? Two things tend to hinder us from properly recognizing and responding to the image of God in the service workers who serve us.

1. Money

Money can provide us with a dangerous, artificial self-confidence. It can control our hearts (Matthew 6:21), focus our love in a wrong direction (Hebrews 13:5), and become a stumbling block (Ecclesiastes 5:10). In the customer service interaction, money can enable the customer to feel like they have the ultimate power in the interaction. Customers attempt to use their money to hold the service hostage until they get what they want from the interaction.

“If I don’t get what I want, then I will be taking my money elsewhere!”

2. Position  

Customers hold a unique position in the service interaction. Services are marketed towards enticing customers to make purchases and this marketing elevates the position of the customer. This elevated position is given more power through the popular service phrase, “The customer is always right.” Sometimes customers use this phrase as an excuse to speak down or harshly when the interaction does not go the way they desire.

“As the customer, you’re supposed serve me!”

The Customer Is (Not) Always Right

This phrase, “The customer is always right,” was originally coined to convince customers that they would receive great service. Although created with good intentions, the phrase has turned into a nightmare for many who work in the customer-oriented industry. Some customers believe that the phrase gives them the right to make unreasonable demands of a business. This leads to unnecessary conflicts and service workers feeling devalued as an employee.

Christians should be wary of adopting this phrase. At its best, it communicates that service workers intend to deliver the best customer service. But at its worst, it communicates a self-centered worldview where one person views himself or herself as more important. When customers use this phrase as an excuse to demand whatever they want, they ignore God’s commands to love and serve others selflessly (Mark 12:31 and 1 Peter 4:10).

Practical Steps

Here are some initial steps to take to provide better interactions with service or customer service workers.

Consider your own attitude. Ask yourself hard questions, such as:

  • What is my attitude towards service workers?
  • As a customer, do I believe that I am always right?
  • How have I treated service workers?
  • How have I reacted when a service interaction does not go as expected?
  • How have I reacted when a service interaction gives me bad, inconvenient news?
  • How can I consider service workers as more significant than myself? (Philippians 2:3-4)

Listen to service workers’ stories. Listen to their frustrations and identify the deeper struggle for many of those workers. Many do their best job to provide the best service yet feel abused by customers.

Focus on the problem and not the person. No customer interaction will ever be perfect, and unexpected problems will probably arise during these interactions. Instead of attacking the service worker, focus on finding ways to solve the problem with the service worker (not against him or her).

Serve a local service worker. Is there a way you, your small group or church could serve a local service worker? It may be something simple and informal as giving small treats or kind words to someone you meet while Christmas shopping. But small treats and kind words can go a long way during difficult working hours.

Our society employs many service workers. You can find them in restaurants, repair shops, retail shopping centers and other various locations. During your next customer interaction with a service worker, may you consider the Imago Dei of whoever is serving you and show them the love of Christ they need to see.

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Eddy Wu

Eddy Wu is a Ph.D. student in Christian Apologetics and Culture at Southeastern Seminary, where he works as the IT Operations Manager. He loves technology and is interested in the problem of evil. He and his wife Erica live in Wake Forest with their 2 kids.

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