Despite what some people seem to think, customer service is not inherently demeaning. Provided the customers are not just playing games or intentionally trying to make one's life unnecessarily difficult, listening to their concerns and doing one's best to alleviate their discomfort serves a genuinely noble end -- serving one's fellow man.
This afternoon I visited a local coffee shop/deli and was waiting in line behind a woman ordering at the counter. I couldn't help but overhear the conversation:
"Let's see... I'll have a roast beef sandwich, and--"
"--I'm sorry, ma'am, we're all out of roast beef."
"You're kidding me."
"No, I'm sorry, we're out."
"This is the second time I've come here for the sole purpose of ordering a roast beef sandwich, only to find that you're all out!"
"I totally understand; our roast beef sandwiches are really good. May I recommend our turkey sandwich instead? I think you'll like it -- it's another popular one."
"I understand. What time do you plan on coming next Wednesday?"
"Around 7:00 PM."
"Okay, I'll personally make sure we have enough roast beef the next time you visit."
"[Still huffing and puffing, but less than before]
Equally as important as what the girl at the cash register was saying to the disgruntled customer was how she was saying it. This girl was a pro. She said everything with a sweet, understanding smile on her face -- it didn't look fake at all -- and her voice was calm, soothing, and confident. I'm sure that underneath that professional exterior she was thinking to herself, What a bitch!, but the point is that she did not say it or act it. The customer couldn't have cared less what the cashier thought. All she cared about was that the cashier treated her like a queen. Actions trump intentions.
By no means are all private-sector employees that friendly and professional. But a lot of them are. Most of them are at least cooperative in the face of complaints and rude manners. They have to be. One way or another, in the long run their paychecks depend on it. In a free market, where you have countless people cooperating with each other with smiles on their faces out of mutual self-interest, what you have is a society based on people serving each other. By contrast, in a government-managed economy, you see far fewer smiles and far less enthusiasm since what you have is a society based on people serving abstract Authority. Apologists for State power claim that government benevolently serves man, but the crux of the matter is this: How can something be called serving man if it simultaneously steals from him by force?
Can you imagine how the exchange I witnessed today would have taken place in a government bureaucracy (think DMV)? Let's give it an Orwellian name like the "Ministry of Food":
"Let's see... I'll have a roast beef sandwich and--"
"--We're out of that. Order something else."
"You're kidding me."
"Lady, you're holding up the line. Order or I'll order for you."
"This is the second time I've come here for--"
"--Here's a turkey sandwich. Next!"
"But I didn't want a turkey sandwich! My tax dollars pay your salary, you know."
"Security! Take this anti-social troublemaker to the interrogation room. And put her on the terrorist watch list due to her suspicious behavior."
Is that fictional exchange hyperbole, or is it disturbingly accurate based on our personal experience with government "services?"
The essence of true service between individuals is free choice. Only when two people exchange voluntarily, without the use of force, can it be said with certainty that the exchange truly serves both of them. This is the philosophical beauty, the truth and ultimate triumph, of the free market.
The next time you serve a customer or any other fellow human being, try doing it with a pleasant smile and cheerful voice. If your smile is rooted in the philosophical foundation of the free market rather than merely some superficial muscle movements in your face, it will look far more genuine. It might even be genuine.