The importance of serving people well

Employees may know what to do and will likely do it if rewarded and trained accordingly, writes expert Paul Butler, but how it’s done is largely in the hands of the human. Metro

“The secret to the many is the one” is a phrase I picked up at some point somewhere. I can’t recall why someone said that to me or in what context but it has resonated with me ever since.   

As service and product providers continue to blend into a homogenous mass of choices for the consumer, it’s a good reminder that people really are the differentiator. You and I can each think of an example where we made a favorable purchase decision due to a positive interaction with one representative from the organization, we were considering to do business with. These were the tipping points.  

Likewise, I am sure we can also recall a time we were so disappointed with our interactions with one employee we vowed we’d never deal with that organization again.  

Yes, it does indeed seem the secret to the many (customers) is the way an organization deals with each and every customer. Multiplication in business seems to be a sum of how we deal with each individual.  

For our very first wedding anniversary, we went on a Mediterranean cruise. Being newlyweds, we didn’t have much to splash out and so we selected a little-known cruise line that was visiting the places we wanted to see such as France, Spain and Italy.  

The destinations were right for us and the price we paid sat well within our budget. We were so excited about our time together especially because we’d received the news, we were pregnant with our first child a few weeks earlier. We felt on top of the world as we sailed a small part of it. The ship was excellent and the food was spectacular.   

One morning towards the end of our cruise, my wife awoke not feeling great at all and was concerned about the pregnancy after she visited the cabin bathroom. We booked the only available appointment early that same morning with the ship’s doctor, whom we came to realize was at the end of his night shift. The nurse was rather terse with us, which we put down to her tiredness. The doctor was cold, uncaring and quite matter of fact when he casually told us we’d lost the baby. His final words were to tell us the clinic was closing in a matter of minutes. That was it.   

The cruise doctor ruined our on-board experience. Even though we’d enjoyed 12 days of beautiful sights, scrumptious cuisine and superb service it was his one interaction with us which ruined the many subsequent opportunities we may have potentially used their cruise vacation services again.   

After many tears and much prayer, we were delighted to hear when we got back home and visited our family doctor in our English village that our daughter was fine and the pregnancy was progressing perfectly well.    

I wonder what it is so deep down within the human condition that causes us to make a choice to sometimes serve others so badly. An organization makes a succession of promises to its customer such as price, product and service. Two out of three are within the complete control of the organization — price and product. It’s the third promise, service, which contains this unknown variable component due to the unpredictability of people.   

The problem with people as service providers is, they’re not machines — they can’t be programmed to be constantly consistent. Employees may know what to do and will likely do it if rewarded and trained accordingly, but how it’s done is largely in the hands of the human. The cruise doctor knew medicine. He did what he needed to do procedurally, but how it was done was appalling. His bedside manner left a lot to be desired.   

As we hopefully return to some normality post COVID-19, may we all recommit to serving each other superbly well regardless of the work we do, the team we lead or the business we own — in each and every opportunity we have to serve another human being.  

Yes, it seems the secret to the many is the one.    

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 article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]   

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