The lost art of customer service?

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

My wife and I have set a goal to run a half-marathon in every state. We thought it would be a fun goal, although I’m still not convinced that running 13.2 miles could be categorized as “fun.”

As I type this, we’re on our way back from Colorado having just run in Denver. My wife finished 11th in her age group; I was pleased to finish standing up.

During the weekend, we had a couple of service interactions that reminded me that many people have forgotten the simple act of being of service to others.

Our first interaction was at an airline information desk, where we needed some directional advice. The agent gave us no eye contact whatsoever and didn’t seem at all interested in being of any service to us. We perhaps would have understood if the agent was engaged on the phone or on his computer screen, but this wasn’t the case. This agent just made a personal choice to not put any effort into their interaction with us.

The second incident came at a visitors’ center within a major tourist attraction in Denver. Now, admittedly, my wife and I often find we have to repeat ourselves due to our English accents but this service provider was just dreadfully disengaged.

After trying to explain what we were looking for by pointing out the items on the attraction’s map, the person just said, “I don’t understand what you’re asking, I can’t help you.”

Again, I wouldn’t have minded if there was a line behind us, but we were the only souls in the visitors’ center.

Another colleague in the store overheard the interchange and offered to help us. As we started to explain what we were looking for, this person just carried on what she was doing (folding T-shirts for display) and was hardly listening at all to what we were asking.

The first person we’d dealt with abruptly interrupted our conversation by giving her colleague instructions on how to correctly fold the T-shirts, cutting in on our conversation.

My wife and I just stood there silently for their conversation to finish and when it did, the second colleague picked up the conversation by saying, “Well, I hope you guys have a great day. Enjoy!”

She hadn’t listened at all to what we were asking and, again, chose to not really be of any service.

It set me thinking about why some people choose to be fully present — to listen well and provide excellent service and others, not so much. What is it within a human being that ignites a spirit to serve where in some; you wonder if there’s even a pulse of politeness.

I am sure all three of these individuals (the gentleman at the airline information desk and the two women at the visitors’ center) have gone through the mandatory customer service training with their respective organizations. So, if they’ve had the training, why was their delivery so poor?

Human beings are not robots and, therefore, they exhibit free choice — this can, of course, be a positive or a negative. I often wonder whether some service jobs in the future will be given to robots. I don’t believe artificial intelligence will ever be able to replace the human touch, though.

I’m sure we’ve all had experience during which we’ve received superb service from another human being — an authentic spirit to serve shone through and delighted us in such a way we remember it like it happened yesterday.

This weekend reminded me of the opportunity to go the extra mile when interacting with other humans. It’s not complicated, and I believe so much of the level of service we give to our customers and our colleagues is down to our personal choice.

Yes, some of it can be trained, but I’d suggest much of what we call “service” comes from a servant’s heart — something it’s difficult to instill in most humans and presently, impossible to program into a robot.

It’s a sad state of affairs when we wonder whether we’d receive better service from artificial intelligence.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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