One afternoon, a few months ago, I followed a friend of mine into a well known clothing shop right here in Accra. I’m still trying to decide whether I should mention the name of the shop. There was a sale on that day, so as you can imagine, the shop was packed with patrons, and the queues at the tills were long. 

After she had made her selections, my friend and I moved towards the tills. There were two queues. We joined the one that seemed slightly shorter. We could overhear the two people in front of us complain that they had been in line for almost an hour. This was discouraging, but it was my friend’s day off, and I had no more meetings for the day, so we decided to wait it out.

As foretold, fifty minutes later we had only moved forward about three spaces. Then one of the shop assistants saw that the items my friend was holding were not sale items. She came up to us and asked us to come up to the front of the queue. 

Now, although we had been waiting for almost an hour, it didn’t seem right to me that I would be served before all the people ahead of me in the queue who had also been waiting for ages. Besides, why should we be given special treatment just because our items were full price? So we declined, and stayed where we were.

Soon, we were just one place away from the counter. But as the person ahead of us finished and the counter became free, another attendant brought a customer who had just joined the queue from the back all the way to the front and took them up to the counter in front of us. I spoke up and asked the attendant why she was crossing us in the queue with this customer, and guess what she said: “Sir, this customer has non-sale items”.

Yep. The same thing that we were unwilling to do to other customers, was being done to us. So of course, I started to explain that I also had non-sale items, and that i had still patiently waited in the queue for my turn, but before I could say anything, the man serving behind the counter suddenly raised his voice and shouted at me, “This queue is for non-sale items. You shouldn’t be here. Why do you people like causing problems like this? You’re lucky we are even serving you in this queue, because you don’t belong here”. 

I tried to show him the stuff we had in our hands, but he just wouldn’t give us a moment to speak. He kept complaining about what troublemakers we were, and how lucky we were that he was even planning to serve us when we didn’t belong in that queue. If we didn’t want to stand quietly and follow the rules, we could drop our items and leave.

Eventually, I decided that we have been abused enough, so I intervened and told the insolent little man that we also were buying non-sale items, but that didn’t even matter. All of us customers in the shop deserved to be treated with respect, because it was the money we were spending that would be used to pay him. Here’s what he had to say about that: “I don’t care”, he quipped. Before I got this job, I was still able to feed myself”.

My friends, I have a theory. I believe at some point in our history, when the English language was first introduced to our shores, there was a word that got wrongly translated from Day One, and we have all since suffered as a result. That word is “Service”.

I think somehow, the word “Service” got translated into our local language as “Servant”. People employed to provide service to customers seem to have a certain inferiority complex about their jobs. They think the customers consider them to be servants, and so, in a bid to prove they’re not, and that it’s “just a job”, they tend to develop the most disgusting attitudes, just to show you, the customer, that you’re not better than them.

In other parts of the world, the word “Service” means something else. It’s a calling, a vocation, a skill. Like a game of chess, the service provider’s aim is to “win” his encounter with the customer by meeting their every need, and leaving them with absolutely nothing to complain about. A true and professional service provider does everything with the aim of leaving their customer far more satisfied than they have ever been. A true service provider makes a customer want to go home and bring more money to spend with them.

As a society, we have a long way to go in understanding the word “Service”. It does not mean “Servant”. It does not debase or demean the provider. It is an art form that requires immense skill in order to excel at it, and the rules are simple: the customer is king. In the service game, you win by eliminating your client’s reasons to complain, and those who play it well will end up ruling empires.

The truth is, service provision is not for everyone. Some people just don’t have the skill or the temperament for it. And such people should never be allowed within 100 feet of a customer. For those of you that find yourself in a role where customer contact cannot be avoided, please just remember that you’re delivering a service. That doesn’t make you a servant. It makes you an expert. 

Every time a customer walks away from you dissatisfied, you have failed. Whenever you win a shouting match with a customer, YOU lose, not them. This is SERVICE DELIVERY you’re in, my friend. It’s not for the unwilling. If you don’t have the patience to do it right, get out of the way and let a real artist deal with the paying customers.

My name is Kojo Yankson, and I’m not a servant. So join me every morning for the service of your life.


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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.