If Service Were a Hymn — Four Tenets for Delivering Remarkable Customer Service


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Hymn singing is a ritual in just about every religion on the planet. Some hymns are chants, some are melodious songs, and some are narratives or responses sung with only two or three musical notes. Regards of their form, they help a collection of people share a common expression of belief in a manner that is joyful and celebrative. Hymns are participation opportunities that can bolster emotional investment, foster communal linkage, and nurture commitment to a set of beliefs.

John Wesley, with his brother Charles, founded what is now the Methodist Church. In his 1761 book, Select Hymns, he wrote the “Directions for Singing” currently found in the front of most Methodist hymnals. If you substituted the word “service” for “singing,” Wesley’s directions would also provide powerful tenets for delivering remarkable service.

Serve Lustily

“Sing lustily and with good courage,” wrote Wesley. “Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep.” Don’t you wish many of the retail stores you visit could get that message? When we witness service people sleep walking through their tasks, we wonder how they could be immune to tough economic times. With jobs scarce and unemployment high, why would anyone serve without gusto and high energy?

Customers expect service with spirit. They abhor handing their hard-earned funds to a server who acts completely indifferent. Besides, many have witnessed the enthusiasm of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, a Chick-fil-A or In-N-Out Burger counter person, or a DisneyWorld cast member. They know the itch and passion to serve when they experience it. And, when the experience touches their heart and lifts their spirit, they derive solid courage to face special challenges.

University of Rhode Island students enjoy going to the CVS/pharmacy nearby in the Kingston Emporium to buy a snack and to see “The Excellence Lady.” The attraction is CVS head cashier Helen “Nonni” Plummer who bids farewell to every customer with the phrase, “Have an excellent!” Should someone inquire “excellent what?” she quickly adds, “Whatever you want it to be.” Her infectious spirit has spread to a Facebook group titled, “You Have An Excellent” with hundreds of members.

Serve Modestly

“Sing modestly…that you may not destroy the harmony but unite your voices together.” Remarkable service requires great teamwork. If the housekeeper is slow getting hotel rooms ready, then the front desk clerks continues to disappoint the guest with “Your room is not quite ready.” The waiter looks foolish if the chef fails to prepare the meal as described. And, if the call center operator makes a promise the field cannot keep, the disharmony leaves customers disappointed.

“Hi, I’m Kelly. I’m on Elena’s team. I have all your information in front of me. How may I help you, Chip?” These words started my second conversation with Dell after buying a computer from Elena.

We enjoy personalized treatment by service providers–people who know us. We even brag about our network. “Ask for Ted” or “Tell Susan I suggested you…” Yet, there are pitfalls with relying on a single server. They resign, get sick, get transferred, and leave us floundering to start over with a new connection. But, it does not have to be that way. Dell’s Elena set it up from the beginning. “Chip, I want you to have my direct extension. But, if I am tied up with another customer, you’ll always get one of my team members who will have all your information. They’ll let me know what they did to serve you.”

Serve All

“Sing all…let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you.” John Wesley made a point of suggesting church goers sing all the verses of a hymn because the verses told a whole story or together made a complete point. Great service is very similar—it is about good closure. That means insuring the customers’ real need is met, not just their request. It involves insuring customers are pleased with the outcome, not just satisfied with the effort.

Steven S. Little tells a personal story in his book The Milkshake Moment of trying to order a vanilla milkshake through hotel room service on his business travels. “We don’t have vanilla milkshakes on our menu,” is a common rebuttal from room service. “Do you have any milk?” Little will ask. “Of course, sir, would you like a glass?” Steve continues his pursuit of his real goal. “Do you have any vanilla ice cream?” “Yes, we certainly do,” the room service person will always say. You already know where this story is going. Every single hotel had everything needed to fulfill the customer’s real need but was stopped by the form of a menu, even when Steve insists they charge him whatever they think is fair.

Listen to the real need behind the customer’s spoken request. Probe to uncover the issue instead of just reacting to the symptom. And, go the extra mile for customers even when you are tired and ready to go home. To paraphrase Wesley, “Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you”–from giving your very best to your customers.

Serve Spiritually

“Above all, sing spiritually. Aim at pleasing God more than yourself…so the Lord will approve and reward you…” While a religious song has a spiritual goal, the end game for service is somewhat similar. It is not about pleasing yourself; it is about pleasing your customer.

My business partner and I were en route to a meeting and stopped for lunch on the run. We are major fans of McDonald’s French fries—the absolute best on the planet. We also enjoy the salads at Chick-fil-A. Luckily the two fast-food restaurants were right next door to each other.

We parked between the two and walked first into Mickey D’s for the fries. It was much like a human vending machine—fast, accurate and functional. But, the Chick-fil-A experience was completely different! You could feel the upbeat warmth as you opened their door. The counter person smiled and greeted us with, “Thank you for being our guests; what can I tempt you with today!” Every employee had the same hosting spirit.

As we were leaving we asked an employee, “How come this is so different than over there.” We pointed toward the golden arches. “Oh,” she said with a grin, “Over there, they serve customers but over here we are hosts to our guests.” We nudged her to push past the easy clichés. Spotting our bootlegged fries, she continued: “Well, over there you just get the fries. But, here we give you a great experience. You may not remember those fries tomorrow; but we hope you will remember your visit with us, even if you forget what you ordered.”

If your service were a hymn, would it elevate the spirits of your customers? Would it unite the passions of those who “sing” with you? Go find a customer and invite them to join in the singing!

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group (chipbell.com) and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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