March 10, 2008

How Can I Serve You?

There is a Chinese proverb that goes something like: “The servant is in fact the master” and it is very true. People who understand the power of service be it customer service, community service or personal service will eventually find themselves indispensable and thus able to wield tremendous power. Sadly in our region, that kind of dedication is hard to find. At thirty-one years of age, I can see clearly that my generation is ashamed to serve anyone. We have one of the poorest customer service standards in the world. It’s almost as if some believe that bending to another’s requests literally means, “bending over”. Some obviously have been made to feel that “to serve” is demeaning and success and material wealth should just come to them because they are somehow “owed” it. It is their time to take, take, take all they can under delusions of “pride and power”. It’s an attitude that is weak and crippling to our people and our country. It reveals a lack of self-esteem because the truth is that in order to serve another, you must have a strong sense of self and self-worth. You have to be able to appreciate that acquiescing to another’s requests does not mean that your life has less value than theirs.

“The servant is in fact the master”

Trinbagonians who do not learn how to serve will remain in poverty and a state of disempowerment. They will continue to be unable to see beyond the shallow material manifestations of success and therefore never be able to realize that same success for themselves without resorting to crime or over-dependency on the government. When they look at the CEO of a bank, they are unable to see that he is the servant of the bank’s shareholders. There are sacrifices and compromises he must be willing to make everyday for their sake. They don’t appreciate that the more people you serve and the bigger and riskier the task, the more money you get paid. All they see are the luxury cars and think it is all about, “being lucky” or “getting to do whatever you want.” No. It’s about hard work! It’s about long hours away from your family. It’s about eating humble pie very often and being able to take the blame squarely on your shoulders. Whether you are an executive or nuts vendor if you want to prosper in this life, you need to serve.

Of course there are greedy and predatory people out there who want to make money by having others work hard for minimum dollar while showing no consideration for their basic needs. However, it does not matter if you realize the power you have. If you do your job well, you can make yourself so influential that your “master” now becomes dependent on you, not the other way around. In an age of personal responsibility and empowerment, bad employers are no longer an excuse to give poor service. There is a true story of a New York City yellow cab driver who managed to quadruple his profits just by taking a little extra pride in his job. Providing passengers with a cleaner cab, pleasant music, reading material, helpful city route advice and cool bottled water helped him to outshine and out gross other cab drivers. He now has his own clientele and gets personal requests for pick-ups on his cell phone. While the other cab drivers still gripe and complain about the Yellow Cab Management underpaying them, he has long moved past that. He is running his own chauffeur service using his Yellow Cab. Erin Gruwell, the real teacher behind the Hillary Swank movie Freedom Writers, used her own money to buy books and start programmes to get results from troubled teens. The bureaucratic, under-funded school system was no excuse for her either. Today she has private and public funding for her very own Freedom Writers Foundation in schools across the USA. Our teachers can take a page out of her book.

Can you be easily replaced by someone who can do an even better job than you, for less with less complaining?

Labour is now a global commodity. If you cannot do a good job with what you are given, someone else surely will, like the Chinese. However, if you exceed expectations, you become invaluable and now things like protests and Unions have valid power. So, are you irreplaceable like the Hollywood writers who went on strike and got what they wanted,? Would your high standards, talents and skills be sorely missed and actually cripple your employer if you were to deny him of them? Or can you be easily replaced by someone who can do an even better job than you, for less with less complaining?

Those of us being served also have a part to play. When you meet a sales clerk at a fast food chain, cosmetics counter, movie concession stand or clothing store and they roll their eyes at your requests; give you the long, tired sigh and drag their feet and offer nothing but attitude and excuses in an attempt to communicate clearly to you, “Don’t think you are better than me!”, they reveal several weaknesses- lack of self-esteem, lack of personal responsibility and ambition. Apart from harming themselves they are not doing what you the customer are paying them for. Please stop grinning and baring it! Stop cowardly mumbling your dissatisfaction and still paying for mediocre product and service! When you do this you only tell poor service or product providers. “Hey, mediocre is fine by me! You don’t need to improve anything, keep on giving me and everyone else less value for money and we’ll be stupid enough to pay for it without question!” Our private sector has not yet begun to truly appreciate the power of the consumer because we have not made them understand that the customer is always right. We are far too liberal with our dollars and lenient with our demands. Speak up! Believe me; our country will be better for this change of culture, especially as we depend more and more on tourism in the future.

Employers in this country are desperate for good, honest workers who will take some pride and initiative in what they do. Customers are also willing to fork out top dollar for the chance to be asked with a warm smile, “How can I serve you today?” Tipping is becoming the norm, even with a service charge on bills. So are you going to rise to the challenge and reap the rewards there for those who prove themselves to be masters by serving others with all their might?


Blackgirl On Mars said...

This is certainly an interesting piece on many points. On the one hand, I think you're right about "serving" others isn't about your self-worth. But on the other hand, I do think that the whole service industry has gotten a bit over-the-top. I mean, I feel uncomfortable sometimes in a restaurant when the staff is a little too helpful--I don't mind pouring my own water for example! And I do think there are those who in positions of privilege who abuse that and think that every one else is out there to serve them and who in the end, don't respect us simply because we are serving. Ordinarily this sort of things shouldn't bother you, but if that person happens to be the powers-of-be in your company, you're talking about a lot of unnecessary stress on that person, which never gets rectified simply because of the social hierarchy.
There is also a historical aspect to this as well, particularly if you come from a culture that has risen up from the historical fact that you and your ancestors were brought here to serve others and through that labor you, your family and by extension your country gained very little. Given that context, to serve others become a very historically loaded concept.
Keep writing & I'll definitely visit again...
the lab

Guanaguanare said...

Flip this around and you get "Servant Leadership" and I'd like to present that philosophy to our leaders. The ones we need are the ones who seek leadership positions out of a sincere desire to be servants - to serve others (as opposed to their own interests and those of the "powerful"). I am putting powerful in quotes to distinguish that group from the equally if not more powerful masses. I agree fully with what you are saying about our long neglected capacity to bring about change. We do have the power to demand respect from our leaders and our fellow citizens, but for many reasons we choose to resort to victim mode, the shrug of helplessness, the passive-aggressive stances, the retreat to the saving rock of pelau.

Like the lab, I agree that there are historical underpinnings but at some point, I continue to believe, the egg will wake up and draw a line, will make a stand outside of history and despite history, to remake the future of the chicken.

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