Service With A Smile: Legend Or History?

Editor’s note: Let me state up front I have great respect for those in customer service. I learned at an early age I wasn’t cut out for such work. I don’t have the grace and patience. This article is in no way meant to disparage those who put forth a solid effort and care. I also know there are some horrific customers with unrealistic expectations and demands. I considered all of this as I drafted this blog post.

This is the tale of two different customer service worlds.

In the first one, you call the 1-800 number because you’ve exhausted all your brain cells trying to fix the problem or error yourself. After bypassing the automated call center (no easy task), you are warmly greeted by a gentle voice who introduces themselves, verifies you are who you claim to be and says, “How may I help you today?” You begin to tell your sad story, your body still tense from the stress of the equipment malfunction or billing question, your head nursing a persistent throbbing pain above your right eye. The representative listens attentively and waits for you to finish before asking a series of questions which surprisingly relate to your exact problem. You consider your answers thoughtfully while a tiny flicker of hope begins to grow inside you. Before long you and your rep are troubleshooting together and working as a team to solve the issue. Hope is now ablaze in your heart. You can feel the tension in your body begin to dissipate. You even have the strength to find a little humor in the situation. You both share a laugh. You leave the call, hopefully, with a resolution you are comfortable with, but even if you aren’t, you still appreciate the efforts of this brave rep. You thank them and wish them well.

I want to live in that world. Don’t you?

But sadly, there is another customer service realm. This dark, desolate land is littered with the corpses of broken dreams and shattered expectations. You don’t know you’ve entered this world until it is too late and there’s no way to turn back. This place lulls you into a false sense of security as you dial the number, bypass the automated call center, and are greeted by a representative. This rep may even exchange benign pleasantries and appear to be ready to help you.

Don’t be fooled. You are not in the first world.

As you muster the courage to tell your tale of woe, you can sense a distracted attitude, but you continue. Nearly breathless from the telling, you anxiously await their reply. Surely, they’ll give you some direction, offer some solution that doesn’t involve you doing all the legwork and bearing all the burden. Of course, it will all be covered as your product was purchased mere weeks earlier and still falls under the warranty. Assuredly, they’ll agree those overage charges can be removed as you’ve been a loyal customer for decades. As they speak you feel your mind scrambling to understand. But they said they understood and apologized for the inconvenience. Why is their option to fix the problem I didn’t cause more work and more inconvenience for me?! What is going on? Perhaps this is their first day. Maybe they haven’t encountered a problem like mine. You feel your blood pressure rising, but you try to maintain composure. Maybe they don’t realize how this option is utterly ridiculous. If I say it back to them, and they hear how crazy it sounds out loud, they’ll make it right. So, you say it back to them.

To your surprise, they don’t agree it’s a fool’s errand and there must be a better solution. In fact, they fall back to the script and repeat their horrendous option while feigning sympathy for your plight. Your blood pressure near tilting range, you raise your voice and restate your objections fighting every impulse to slip into excessive expletive use. But you don’t want to be unkind to them. On some level you feel for them. Though you are far from a difficult customer, you’re sure they have more than their fair share of abuse to deal with on a regular basis. You don’t want to add to the negativity.

Your words pour out in a mix of frustration and restrained anger. You finish and there’s no response. Then a minute or so later, the rep is back on the line. Did they just mute me? I’ve done business with them for ten years, and this is the thanks I get? Where is the consideration? Where is the support? 

Now you’re faced with a difficult choice: escalate with the rep (which will get you absolutely nowhere) or ask to speak with a manager (which will probably also get you absolutely nowhere). You resign yourself to your fate. You drop your metaphorical sword and cave to the hellacious and erroneously named option. You hang up the phone feeling rejected, disappointed and in desperate need of a nap. You’d like to think you gained some wisdom from the encounter, but you didn’t. On the contrary, at one point you could actually feel your brain getting number and dumber.

In today’s world, is good quality customer service no longer possible?

As I stated in my Editor’s Note, I respect those in the field. It can’t be easy spending your entire shift hearing complaints and dealing with unhappy people. I would imagine the salary is far from commensurate with the daily dose of aggravation.

Though I wasn’t a customer service rep, several of my careers involved managing client issues, even in healthcare. There were many times I was working diligently to help one of my patients in their recovery. But that didn’t stop an unsatisfied family member from accosting me with a litany of complaints. Most of the time, I understood. Their concerns were typically out of my purview, but I was the one who answered the phone or was the therapist. I was the first warm body who’d given them the time of day in a long while. They weren’t letting me get away that easily, so I did my best to listen and respond respectfully.

Did I miss the mark many times? Absolutely. Did I take their tone as an attack against me personally? Sure did sometimes. Did I often opine that I wasn’t getting paid enough to deal with all the drama? You betcha.

I’m not immune to acknowledging the fact that the conversation (on phone or in person) is two-way. Having said that, both parties should make their best effort to keep the dialog civil, but I believe the onus is more on the rep than the customer to set and maintain the tone. Placing the call on mute or hold may be an option. Just make sure the customer doesn’t figure out what you’re doing. Nobody wants to be ignored or dismissed, least of all when they’re already feeling ignored and dismissed.

Sometimes it feels as if no one wants to go the extra mile or even the regular mile.

I hate when I start to wax on about “the good old days” because: it makes me sound old, and they probably weren’t as good as my nostalgic memories portray them. But I will say I’ve noticed a trend for some time of people just not making the effort anymore. And I don’t mean going above and beyond the job, I mean literally doing the basic requirements of the job!

For some, they have a pervasive sense of entitlement. They genuinely believe because they showed up, they’ve earned the day’s pay. This is incorrect.

You know I brought receipts. (Any and all Bible verses, unless otherwise indicated, are from, NIV, emphasis added.)

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. (Romans 4:4)


For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18)

The crucial element to keep in mind with these verses is it is the worker who deserves and should expect their wages. It is not the person who shows up to work. Walking through the door counts toward attendance not performance.

I understand feeling why should you bother when others come in and don’t work nearly as hard and are getting paid the same (or better) than you. It’s incredibly demotivating. The temptation is great to just coast along and do the barest of bare minimums. I have certainly given in to that impulse at times. I just couldn’t sustain that level of inactivity. I’d get bored and the day would drag on if I didn’t keep moving. Despite my best attempts, I’d eventually revert to my normal pace.

I was raised to work. I believe there’s dignity in working. I’m not suggesting you make your job the cornerstone of your life or identity. But a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day does help build you up. Sure, some days you’re just thankful you survived in one piece, but still.

My parents demonstrated a strong work ethic, whether in the home (Mom) or at the office (Dad). As a writer it is more difficult to keep a structured, disciplined work schedule than when I was in the business or healthcare fields. But I’m trying.

There is also value and purpose in serving others, but don’t take my word for it. Check this out:

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

I believe this verse speaks to the concept of servant leadership. The principle is if you expect to lead, you must be willing to humble yourself and serve others. I would argue it includes the concept of not asking someone who works for you to do something you aren’t willing and prepared to do. Now, if you don’t possess the skillset to perform a function, that’s a different story. I offer it refers to menial tasks. Don’t ever consider yourself above them or they’re beneath you.

As a Christian, Jesus is the example, the role model for how to conduct ourselves in all areas of life. Jesus was a servant. Check this out:

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

If the Son of God could humble Himself and serve others, how much more should that be our posture?

Is service with a smile a legend or history?

A legend implies it’s somewhat rooted in historical facts but has been embellished over time. History suggests it happened in the past. It’s not occurring now. I believe there are a few shining lights out there who still care. I’ve met some of them. They’re wonderful. On a daily basis, they make the world a little less awful for those they help. They even inspire me to not give in to my more cynical nature of feeling anxious over every interaction with a twist in my belly and a sense of foreboding and dread in my heart.

So, I end by saying service with a smile is neither a legend nor history. But I caution we are at a crossroads. If we’re not careful, there is a real risk of snuffing out the spark that still resides in some representatives. May all of us, regardless of which side of the dialog we’re on, conduct ourselves with respect, humility, and kindness. And perhaps one day we can share the legend of the dark world of customer service with those who never had to trudge through its muck and mire.

Until next time: stay happy, stay healthy, stay in the know.

Look forward to hearing from you.


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