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Forget customer service. We need customer servants.

In a conversation, my business partner — Mark O’Renick — made the comment that service has become lost in the idea of customer service. It took me a second to get what he was saying. Here’s why.

“Service” is a powerful word. It means being selfless in an endeavor to help another human. But as soon as you couple it with the word “customer” it loses something. The term “customer service” has become so overused (and misused) that now it means less to us.

Do we really think of Customer Service Representatives as people who are in service to us? I’m going to pretty confidently answer no to that one. Oh there may the exceptional experience that we have. But it is just that. An exception.

Most of these folks should be called Customer Transaction Administrators. Or Problem Resolution Facilitators (that’s generous for most of these types I’ve dealt with.) Most often, I feel like I have a Customer Tolerator on the other end of the line.

From customer service to customer servants

Here is the change that we need. Customer Service Representatives need to become Customer Servants. I don’t mean that to be denigrating. I’m defining being a servant much the same way that it is extolled in books like The Servant Leader.

It is an idea that we succeed when we put others first. And that we can make a difference in others’ lives. There is incredibly dignity and power in being this kind of servant. It’s us really taking ownership of the idea that it’s not just our job to provide “service”, but to “serve”.

Where will we find these servants?

It’s hard to blame all the thousands of Customer Service Reps out there that have rendered the word “service” virtually meaningless to us. It’s not their fault. Well, not 100% their fault. A big part of the responsibility lies with the companies they work for. The organizations foster it.

Is it some evil conspiracy? No. It’s simply a lack of purpose.

If there was a larger purpose at play, everyone in the organization could understand how what they do day in and day out can make a difference in a life, a community, or even the world. That kind of understanding transforms how we think about what we do every day. That’s how these service people shake the bad rap we’ve given them and begin to capture the dignity and power that comes not from being in service (the department), but from being in service to someone else.

Dan is the creator of the Big Audacious Meaning. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life. He regularly shares his insight here on Linkedin and at

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Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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