TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – By joining the U.S. Air Force, we have committed ourselves to put “service before self.” By definition, we have answered an altruistic calling to serve others. This reflects servant leadership and customer service. In fact, with successful internal and external customer service endeavors, we assume a servant leader role by placing the needs of our teammates first. And when I say teammates, I’m referring to those Airmen we serve with, as well as those we serve for, inside and outside our organizations. Fundamentally, many of the same servant leadership characteristics mirror platinum customer service qualities, and vice versa.
Humility is the foundation for selfless customer service and servant leadership. When leading and tending to others, it is essential to be that modest ‘pilot’ that your teammates trust and rely on for guidance and support, especially during challenging times. Furthermore, our teammates must be made to feel that their needs are paramount to our own. Accordingly, when providing service, whether it’s mentoring or providing functional-area support, we must be courteous, be respectful of the teammate’s time and conscientiously attend the interaction. These are essential to establishing successful teams.
Also, servant leaders and customer service champions seek out and welcome diverse opinions. In fact, most who embrace continuous improvement fight for feedback from any and all sources, regardless if the information is positive or negative. In effect, we can overcome a particularly nasty communication barrier that often thwarts mission success and improvement of any sort by insisting that our customers “call the baby ugly.” If we value what our teammates think, we must encourage and develop mechanisms for feedback in order to let them know their opinions are valued. Most critically, those we seek opinions and information from need to know we are, in fact, listening. We can most effectively do this by responding to their feedback and by taking reasonable purposeful action for the greater good. We must also shed our egos and welcome the inevitable criticism. If we are humble, we are teachable and, we embrace every opportunity that follows to improve our customer service delivery experience.
What’s more, thinking long term and ‘building the bench’ are central tenets for customer service and servant leadership. Our teammates must know we’re here when they need us. However, being available is made more difficult by the fission-fusion nature of our teams. We can help overcome this constraint by requiring standardized processes. Continuity for today and tomorrow resides best with the process and not a person. So we must train our replacements to be malleable within the limits of lasting codified standards and, in turn, we’ll galvanize our organization’s high-reliability culture and keep it true to the mission, and to our teammates.
In the end, if we’ve done our due diligence, we will produce leaders with others in mind, and these customer service leaders will have a penchant for teamwork and service that’s not considered an inconvenience. Truly, selflessly serving others is “service before self.”