We've all heard the phrase "the customer is always right," a statement thought to have originated with one of the proprietors of the Marshall Fields department store in the late 19th century. These enterprising businessmen hoped to instill a sense of good customer service in their employees —placing the customer first in the list of competing priorities. The wisdom of this concept has repeatedly proven itself, as others who have adopted it have become the stuff of customer service legend. Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, Lexus, and a host of others have found tremendous success by putting the customer first.
In the early years of my career, I was a typical technologist—spending the majority of my time narrowly focused on the IT tools and technologies that attracted most of us to this field in the first place. I didn’t give much thought to my customers or what was important to them— until a can of green beans changed my outlook on IT and life.
Nearly ten years ago, while I worked for a major U.S. food and drug retailer, a wise IT manager set an inspired team goal that I think about even today. We were to make a list of our customers and identify one way we could better serve each of them. Simple, right? I dove right in, making a very short list of the people that I interacted with each day. The service improvement idea was a little more challenging, but I made a half-hearted effort and had my list—goal accomplished.
But as I thought about who my customer is and what it really meant to serve them, my list changed, as did my approach to IT. Rather than viewing my customer in the limited demographic of the technology consumer, I came to see my customer as anyone who is impacted by the service that I provide: engineers, support personnel, baggers, checkers, stockers, clerks, the CEO . . . and the mother of five on Aisle 7 buying green beans for her family.
My newly enlightened view changed my perspective and approach to both IT and life. I began to think about everything in terms of how it affects other people. I began to view the opportunity to provide service to my customers as more of a privilege than a right.
King Benjamin, in one of my favorite addresses on this subject, tells us that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). Each of us serves a customer in one way or another, regardless of our occupation, social status, or position. Knowing who that customer is and thinking about how they are affected by what we do each day forces us to consider the impact—positive or negative—that we have on their professional and personal lives.
Jeffrey D. Tibbitts is an infrastructure manager for the Church.