Customer service shalom

The barista who makes my coffee is a twenty­-something blonde with legitimate cheeks and a kind smile. She’s wearing the kind of flannel top I wish I could pull off, kinda reminding me of a trendy Elsa. Her name is Amy. She’s not wearing a name tag – this coffee shop is too hip for name tags. I know her name because her supervisor called her from across the bar to send her on her break. To know this about Amy, I had to pay attention.

My favorite cashier at the grocery store around the corner from our home is named “Marge”. Yes, she’s actually named Marge, which I love because it suits her. She’s no­-nonsense and efficient but she has an eye for beauty – more than once, she’s commented on my necklace or my asymmetrical hair cut, or my daughter’s vibrant curls. She’s up on her Super Bowl stats and she’s generous with the brown paper bags­, even though she’s supposed to charge me. I always forget my reusable bags. Since we moved to LA a year ago and made the store around the corner “our” grocery store, I’ve paid attention to Marge, and now she feels like a friend.

The other day, we had a problem with our bank account, so I called the 800 number in the mobile app and a man answered. He was pleasant and professional. When he answered, “Thank you for holding. My name is Seth, how can I help you?” without skipping a beat, I replied, “Hey, Seth, this is Osheta Moore, how are you?” I guess I could have jumped in with my problem – I mean, there was nearly $500 missing from our account – but I simply couldn’t do it. I can’t rush straight to my customer service needs without acknowledging the person meeting them on the other side. I’m not a particaulrly virtuous person; I’m just a woman who was changed by a Lenten practice a few years ago called “customer service shalom”.

When I complained to my husband about the server letting my glass of water remain half full for most of my meal, I realized that I hated the consumer I was becoming. In every part of my life, I tried to live a life of intention, except when I spent my money. I had stopped caring about the servers, the cashiers, and the store reps.

I was entitled and efficient, out in the world spending my money, expecting to always get my way. I am the daughter of a hard­-nosed, no-compromise store manager. I knew the standards my mom had for her employees, and I expected nothing less in my own customer experience. Those high standards robbed the humanity from my shopping; I lost my kindness to those who served me through impersonal metrics and survey. Too often, I read Yelp reviews and marked the angry, snarky ones as “helpful” because, you know, “the customer is always, right? Right?”

No, because people always matter more than things.

Hearing myself consider docking the server’s tips for letting me go thirty minutes without fresh water disgusted my own ears. I knew I needed to filter my consumerism through the lens of “shalom”. Shalom is another word for peace, wholeness, and unity. It’s seeking to live as whole a life as possible. My attitude towards people in the service industry was broken, and in need of wholeness.

So, I decided that for Lent, I would do three things:

1: See the person behind the counter and remember one thing about them. The way they smile, their interesting tattoos, the way they part their hair. Anything that humanizes them.

2: On the phone, listen for their name, say their name back to them before jumping in to my need.

3: At the end of the call or transaction say, “Thank you” and mention one thing I loved about what they did.

For 40 days, I paid attention to the people in the service industry, letting Mother Teresa’s words, “We belong to each other”, mean more to me than a pretty phrase to hang on my kitchen wall. For the 40 days of Lent, I treated every person in customer service as if they belonged to me, and soon, they did.

Now, my barista, and cashier, and bank teller, and hair dresser are no longer a means to an end, but my allies in this life. Their hard work and attention keep me going. I pay attention to them and I let them know that I see them.

This looks like telling Amy that the little bear she created really made my day, or letting Marge know that I appreciated how quickly she came to help me at the self-­check, even though she had two customers waiting for bags and one with a malfunctioning scale. It often looks like me telling the rep on the other end of the line that I think he did an awesome job helping me find out where my money went (card fraud, by the way) and thanking him for explaining the bank’s policy to me.

“Customer service shalom” has taught me how to resist the temptation of consumerism to reduce those relationships to transactions.

Oftentimes the people working in our banks, coffee shops, and restaurants are making minimum wage. They’re barely able to make ends meet, and when I come in and treat them as a means to an end, I add insult to injury. No one wakes up and expected to be treated poorly when they get to work. Their job does not strip them of their intrinsic value and worth, so I’m choosing to be a mindful consumer – mindful of the person behind the counter, mindful of my gratitude for them, and mindful of the way I communicate that worth to them.

Today as you go out into the world to pick up a gallon of milk or fill your gas tank up or upgrade your phone, I hope you’ll join me in honoring the people on the other side of the counter by remembering that they are people, saying their name and offering a sincere “thank you” for all that they do. It’ll add wholeness, and sweetness, and a new purpose to your errand-running. At the very least, it’ll keep you from noticing and complaining about half-empty water glasses, which is always a good thing.


top photo source
Osheta Moore

Osheta is a contributor at SheLoves, and a Deeper Story story-teller. She believes everything is better after a nap, brunch with girlfriends is a necessity, and nothing beats a good Netflix binge. You can find her online at Shalom in the City.

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  1. What a great post! So many good points. I live in a country where we do not have tipping culture, and the use of people’ s names in conversation is rare. But even so, being kind and graceful to the people we meet and who help our lives by serving us is essential. Thank you for this energizing post.

    • You’re welcome! I think sometimes it’s even harder to remember to be kind especially when we have structures like a tipping culture. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Thank you ….a great reminder on how to build community and this will make it a much nicer place for us all to be in .

  3. Loved this post! Along the same lines, whenever I have to make a complaint or if I have a problem with a company policy, I always tell the person ‘I know this isn’t your fault, and I’m not upset with you.’ I want them to know that I might be angry about their store’s crummy return policy but I’m not mad at them personally. I don’t know if it helps but I like to think it does.

    • Oh yes, you’ve touched on something so important— even when we have a legitimate complaint, they way we do it matters. I love your policy of not blaming but addressing an blind-spot. Thank you for commenting!

  4. Loved this post and off to share. That connection, seeing people and really listening is what is needed in the world right now xx

  5. Osheta, this really resonated with me. I’m a pretty serious introvert, so I can probably apply your strategies beyond customer service reps to a whole host of people I run into. I really like the idea that “we belong to each other.” Thanks for some practical tips for living that out.

  6. Great post, I’m and artist/waitress and I can tell you how much nice people make a difference in my job. Nobody really aspires to wait tables, it’s really hard work, but nice people can make a difference.

  7. Oh my I just loved this!! Shalom!

  8. This is lovely, I was stirred. 🙂 The customer and employee relationships easily overtake us, and when they do we lose the simple human connection that so enriches our lives.

  9. Such an amazing post – and a fantastic Lenten practice. Thank you!

  10. Thank you for this post! After having worked in the customer service industry (taking orders over the phone), it amazes me how few people really *think* about those on the other end of the phone. It took a few years to recover from constantly being yelled at and berated over the phone 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. We got very few breaks at work and not many holidays so when someone would actually be nice on the phone, it really helped.

    I think maybe we should aspire to also keep this in mind when driving. My daughter one day pointed out that the person in the car beside us looked sad and I looked over and realized that I rarely ever think about the person in the car as being a “person”. It helps a little bit dealing with traffic if you can try and remember that the cars aren’t driving themselves (not yet!) and there is a person in there with feelings just like you.

  11. This is beautiful. Thank you Osheta for putting this into words for me. I’ve been trying to use people’s names in conversations and on the phone. Now I’ll take it a couple of steps further. Your openness and honesty had left an incredible mark on me.

  12. What a great posting! I worked in the service industry for years and put up with a lot of negativity. The positive that came out of my experiences is that it made me much more mindful of being respectful to the person serving me. Recently several in my family went to a small restaurant for breakfast. The place was packed and they had one server. You could tell this young girl was doing her best. At the end of the meal when she returned to the table to ask if we needed anything else I told her that considering she was alone she did an excellent job and should be commended. I called the restaurant the next day and told her manager how outstanding she was. Another positive about being more aware is that you feel good supporting your fellow man. There is just too much negativity out there. We can be the change.

  13. Was listening to Joyce Meyer’s podcast for today and it was so similar. How we need to love and forgive in the little things. And she used our interactions with those in the service industry as example. Love this idea.

  14. Wow! Wonderful! I always desire to make meaningful connections, but as an introvert, I avoid small talk and often don’t know how to connect with people in such a short time. I loved your suggestions, they are totally doable, count me in this Lent!

  15. This was fantastic! Working in customer service for years before I was married helped me recognize this in myself, as well, and to do better. Great tips and great writing. Thanks for your post!

  16. Hi Osheta,
    Longtime reader of Art of Simple, first time commenting: this post was fantastic and perfectly timed as we enter the season of Lent. Why is it so easy to forget that people are indeed more important that things? I try to do this often – especially the part about the phone reps and telling them one thing I really enjoyed about their service, like, ‘you have a lovely phone voice’ or ‘thanks for helping me – you totally get it’.
    Fantastic post!

  17. Great article! I worked in the food service industry to put myself through school and always appreciated people who acknowledged my humanity. You never know what is going on in someone’s world and your kindness can brighten someone’s day.

  18. This is a gorgeous, beautiful, inspired Lenten practice and I love it. Thanks so much for sharing, Osheta!

  19. I loved this post and your ideas. I will definitely be thinking and acting differently during my interactions with all those people who help me throughout the day!

  20. Wow – this post should be required reading for EVERYONE!! I think I am pretty kind face-to-face with the teller or waiter etc. but I know I can be horrible over the phone! I need to remember that they too are someone’s child or sister or uncle or neighbor, with worries and dreams and fears of their own. I hope Customer Service Shalom (CSS) sweeps the nation – how awesome would that be!!

  21. Thankyou for your thoughtful and inspiring words. I ache inside to think of all the times I gave a good tip, but failed to remember a single thing about the person serving me.

  22. I find it interesting and a little bit confusing that a practice for Lent, a Christian observance, is being based on a Hebrew (and Jewish) word/concept. Also, I’ve never heard of Shalom defined as “seeking to live as whole a life as possible.” It’s a greeting and also means “peace.”

    • So much of the Christian faith is born out of the Jewish traditions. I think Shalom is a critical aspect of the Christian belief, as we believe that Jesus was the ultimate gift to bring peace and wholeness… Shalom… in a way that repairs our broken world. I’ve read it explained that our world is like a tapestry. When the threads are broken and fraying, gaps form and the picture is muddled or ruined. When all the threads are repaired and woven back into their places, then everything is connected and whole. The picture is clear. That’s peace. That’s Shalom.

      • What you are describing sounds much more like “tikkun olam” than “shalom”! It’s a beautiful concept: repair the world.

    • Shalom means wholeness.

  23. Thank you. This is a fantastic piece and an excellent practice. As a customer service employee you’d think I would have thought about doing this myself, but I hadn’t. I’m not mean to people serving me, but I never thought about ‘humanising’ them in the way that you described. Great message.

  24. This is beautiful and moving. Such a great idea put to words in a way that inspires action. Thank you Osheta!

  25. Osheta, this piece is lovely. I’m *usually* kind – but this inspires me to be more consistent and intentional about these daily interactions. Thank you so much.

  26. Thank you – this made me think and I will try to treat the servers of the world better – and in turn hope my children see that….it makes me glad today that I helped the lady in front of me unload her cart in the grocery line, didn’t get upset when she had to look through all her pockets (and she had many!) to find her cash or even when she wanted one last thing rung up separately – and then to be able to greet the cashier with a smile when it was my turn. So often that kind of thing would have thrown me off and made me impatient but today, today I wasn’t! And now, after reading this I will be intentional in being patient and nice…and I hope it will become a habit by the end of 40 days!

  27. I like this so much. I am a customer service manager and I handle all the calls for the small manufacturing company I work for. I could share some horror stories BUT on the whole people are kind and considerate. Because of what I do, I’m extremely aware of how I treat the person behind the counter, at the other end of the phone, or behind me in traffic! Great post!

  28. I’ve been doing this for years. My parents taught me that a little kindness goes a long way. If my waitress/waiter doesn’t have a name tag or fails to identify themselves, I always ask their name. It’s much nicer to be able to say, “Bob, I could use another cup of coffee,” as opposed to, “Hey, I need more coffee.” I’ve even been known to ask a waiter if there was anything special that I could pray about for them. On the phone, I always address the representative by name. And, at the end, thank them for their cooperation….same in the store, when I’ve needed something and couldn’t find it.

  29. I can’t say I don’t get annoyed at times but if you’re nice people are nice back. My husband is in the army and there were times when was deployed where the only person i might talk to some days was the barrista at Starbucks or the receptionist at my psychiatrist. It’s hard to learn things about people from such short interactions but you can. My barrista (I drive thru usually) knows I have two little kids – two car seats in my car, it’s amazing what she can tell about my day based on what I order, if I’ve been through more than once or who is in the back seat. I know all about her kids from listening to her talk. People will tell you all kinds of thing if you smile and say hi and listen. **I’m horrible about listening when it comes to people like friends and family.

  30. Thank you for the gentle reminder to always be kind.

  31. YES!!!!!!! And then keep it up after the 40 days are over!!!!!

  32. Osheta, this is the very first time that I have read your blog. I was reading an email from On This New Morning and there was a link at the bottom to your website.

    Wow! So glad that I read this wonderful piece you wrote, I am also an Introvert (as a previous poster mentioned) and have really worked hard to be friendly, ask questions, and chat with hospital staff, teachers in the school I sub in, checkers at the grocery, the girl at the salon that washes my hair, the wait staff, etc.

    Just last Sunday at brunch I spoke to a waiter we had had once before. It turned into a long conversation where I learned he also taught at a catholic school (I retired from full time teaching last year) and this was his Sunday job. In Lake Geneva, Wisconsin last month I did the same thing and learned about how our waiter ice fishes, etc. it is amazing how the world opens up, isn’t it?

    However, the main reason I wrote is that I have not always been as “friendly” on the phone where I have had to resolve a complaint. Thank you, also, for that.

    I have added something to my Lenten promise that I will continue long after Easter! 🙂

  33. If I need something from a busy server I gently say, “When you have time…” It lets them know I am trying to not add to their burden. It recognizes, for instance, that my take out container is not as time critical as someone else’s hot soup.

  34. I worked as a floor nurse for three years and the health care industry is another one where a little humanizing would be welcome. Most people aren’t outright rude to their nurses, techs, food service members, but often they can be a little impatient. It’s understandable – if you or a family member are in the hospital it’s a very stressful situation for you – but there were times that the staff was treated like concierge. Occasionally I felt like replying to the person who said, “I need water now!” with “Well, the patient next to you needs CPR now!” That’s only a small exaggeration because I worked on a heart floor. I remember one elderly couple specifically – I went to their room and he said, “Honey, I know you’re really busy. You get here when you can. Why don’t you just show us where the water dispenser is and we’ll help ourselves. Thank you for what you do.” I nearly cried and still get teary eyed thinking about it. I totally understand that people aren’t their best when sick but the patients and family members who went the extra mile to be helpful and kind really made the job worth it.

  35. Just the other day, we were leaving a store and my 9 year old, (having read her name tag) said, “Goodbye Susan! Have a nice day.” Everyone in the place stopped what they were doing and collectively smiled, recognizing a tangible shift in the atmosphere. With nervous, joyful laughter, everyone waved goodbye to my son.

  36. What an absolutely beautiful post! I’m off social media for Lent, hoping for an opportunity to richen my prayer life. Checking my email, I found this! My daughter works at a large coffee chain. They are supposed to serve an enormous amount of customers per hour (100/hr??). She tries to show people Jesus, but some days it’s hard. One man threw .17 cents at her and told her she needed this more than her (they grad from same college and he saw her ring). One barista had coffee thrown at her. They have been called disparaging name more than they can count. All over a cup of coffee. She works with many non Christians and some of the worst offenders are women in Bible studies. These people watch Christians and feel convicted that they made the right choice when something like this happens. Sorry to go on, but you struck this momma’s cord.

  37. Yes, yes, yes!! LOVE this post – it resonated with me on so many levels! Thank YOU, Osheta, for sharing your lessons with us & encouraging love & Shalom <3

  38. My heart is full thanks for that wonderful post. I pass it to all I see when in the grocery store as well. It really makes for an enjoyable life and it can really brighten the day for someone who may be having a down moment. Cheers

  39. Osheta, I love this. Thank you for a much needed reminder, perspective and encouragement 🙂

  40. Beautiful.

  41. That was a beautiful post & always something I’m mindful of doing. Our working lives are hard enough these days even if you’re doing something that you love doing. People in customer service have one of the hardest jobs ever yet they mostly keep smiling through the worst of it. It always helps to treat people like a good friend you’re just meeting for the first time. The world certainly needs more love & appreciation.

  42. Great reminder! I am guilty of this my self. Thanks for the challenge to notice others more.

  43. Shraddha Waigaonkar says:

    Wow.. this was awesome.. 🙂 I try to practice it but sometimes i loose it … thanks for such a nice article..

  44. I always do that – those people are not servants but people who have a job to do. And they are no less worth than I am. (Okay, it was helpful that I once was on that end of the line, hanging clothes and selling shoes.) I always try not to be rude because I don’t want to be treated that way either.
    And it really helps. My sister-in-law is someone who thinks that the world evolves around her. She very often complains how “stupid” people are, how bitchy the shop assistant were, how bad the service is – but this is because she treats people badly. In my experience you always can talk to those people and almost immidiately they try to help you instead of just making their job.
    Two weeks ago I indeed was rude to a shop assistant. I wrote a rather unkind email and got back – an not so kind email as well. As soon as I found out that the mistake was not on their side but on mine I wrote an apology. And guess what? I got a very warm email back, telling me how nice it was that I admitted my fault. And this made my day 🙂

  45. I love this post! So beatiful!!!

  46. Bob Almond says:

    Love the thought. But can I ask what ‘legitimate’ cheeks are? And does that mean some other cheeks are illegitimate? Never heard the word used like that before, and I was just curious!

  47. This is such a good reminder. It’s basic, but we easily forget to do it! Thanks for the encouragement to be kind and to resist seeing people as objects.

  48. Shirlene Muir. says:

    What a great way to observe Lent and the habit will stay with you for the rest of your life.

    Thank you.

  49. Sally Atkinson says:

    Thank you so much for this! Many of my friends are in the service industry and kind words and a 20% tip can make their day soooo much easier. Namaste

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