In many ways, when you look around, we appear to have normalised or, at the very least, become accustomed to mediocre service interactions. Either that, or we’ve fallen under some kind of spell. Let me paint a picture for you; maybe this picture is familiar to you also?

An ordinary day, a few errands and appointments to attend. I take a family member to a medical appointment, get on a flight, check in to my hotel at the other end, do some quick personal shopping across the road from the hotel, grab dinner with some colleagues and drop into a supermarket on the way back. Multiple interactions as a customer, and all of them below average and pre­dictably underwhelming:

  1. At the medical appointment: We arrive for a scheduled check-up. The receptionist confirms our appointment, checks my family member in and directs them to the waiting area. The receptionist efficiently carries out the necessary administrative tasks but does not engage with me or my family member beyond this.
  2. At the airline check-in desk: I have a bag to check in for this trip. The self-service kiosk is not working. An airline staff member walks up to me and, without eye contact or a smile, asks for my boarding pass, overrides the self-service kiosk, prints the baggage tags and tags the luggage, all in silence. The interaction is minimal and solely focused on completing the transaction as quickly as possible.
  3. At the hotel: I arrive and queue at the front desk. With a half-smile, the receptionist asks for my name, verifies my booking, provides the room key and briefly explains where the room is located. The process is quick and efficient but lacks any personal touch or attempt to understand if I have any special requirements or interests.
  4. At the retail store: I walk in with a particular product in mind. I go to the register to find a human, as I can’t see anyone on the floor. I ask where the product is, and the staff’s reaction to my product request is a look of disapproval. They point in a partic­ular direction, leaving me doubting if this product is reputable and wondering if I said something I shouldn’t had? I find the product. I no longer feel good about it, so I leave without making a purchase.
  5. At the restaurant: I arrive where my colleagues suggested they would be and eventually find them. I sit at the table and wait for several minutes before a waiter sees me and offers me a drink. The menu is accessible via a QR code, and we are asked to use this when we’re ready to order. We order. There is no more service for what feels like an eternity as I drain my first glass of wine. The food arrives with a brief explanation of what has been placed on the table, and then they are off. ‘Dump and run’ would be an accurate description. There is no more service. Our bill arrives, and we are asked to leave a tip on a mobile payment machine that is (yep, you guessed it) dumped on the table. We all agree that the tip request is an insult – who would we be tipping and what for? We get up and leave; no one from the restaurant says goodbye or asks if we enjoyed the meal.
  6. At the supermarket: Well, let’s just say, even I am not paying attention by now. Just an ordinary day, and so many opportunities for these people to make me feel just a little bit valued, unique or import­ant – yet I collapsed on my hotel-room bed thinking how beige and two-dimensional each of those service interactions were. No one did anything wrong and no one was offensive, but equally, no one honoured the whole human that I am beyond the product or service. There was nothing special about any of it.

And so, on we go. Each day is a lot like the last. Walking around the world under the illusion that we’re serving people with what we think they need – and yet missing opportunities each day, in the ordinary interactions, to reinforce and honour each other.

We don’t need to be part of a religion or commit to community service to feel connected, cared for and part of something bigger than ourselves. If we take a more holistic approach to ordinary service interactions, we are nurturing that deep need to feel we matter. As the saying goes (often attributed to philosopher and psychologist John Dewey), ‘The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to feel important’.

Customer service delivered by humans has a point of difference that needs to be articulated clearly. That point of difference is this: we can see all of the person in front of us. Beyond the product or service that the customer has come for, what they really want out of this engagement is often something only another human can sense, only a human can tap into, and only a human can provide (even if they are unconscious of it).

Edited extract from The Future of Service is 5D (Publish Central $29.99) by Jaquie Scammell, founder and CEO of ServiceQ.