I travel more than the average American. I fly two round trips a year from Utah to Virginia and back. I’ve spent two weeks of the past two summers living on a train with my family and seeing the country. I rode the city bus every day to and from school last year. I even just tried Lyft for the first time today (and lived to tell the tale), and I’m typing this on a train. The conductor just came by to scan my ticket.
For all the hours I spend having my tickets scanned and sitting in numbered seats with armrests, I’ve encountered a lot of customer service representatives. Attendants, pilots, desk workers, phone reps, and even cleaning people.*
And while I’ve had dozens of positive experiences with amazing people (some of whom I will never forget), I remember only a handful of bad experiences.
It’s not that I’m not looking. I’ve worked several years in customer service, and I actually have high expectations because I’ve provided service at high standards myself. But when I read reviews on company websites, I see one horror story after the next, and I just can’t help but wonder, “Why does that never happen to me?”
Just a moment while I find some wood to knock on.
Okay, I’m back.
Well, I think the answer is pretty simple.
I receive good customer service because I am a good customer. I smile. I look people in the eyes. I say “please” and “thank you,” and since I began living in the South, I even say “yes ma’am” and “no sir.” So I am met with the same respect and dignity from customer service representatives. (I don’t mean to say that I somehow am better than people who get bad customer service. I’ve even been short with others myself. I’m simply making an observation out of my own experience.)
Do desk workers have bad days? Absolutely. Do they make mistakes? They’re only human. And we’ve all been stuck with unfortunate travel circumstances that don’t work in our favor. But that is no excuse to be rude, impatient, or dehumanizing to the employee trying to fix it. In fact, he or she is probably stressed out too, so we should be loving that specific person even more.
Not only that, but I believe that Christians are called to go far beyond general courteousness toward those who serve us.
Before leaving the Earth, Jesus explained that his final command was the one that would set apart His children: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34). He repeats Himself in John 15:12. Jesus was serious about loving people. He’s talking about the importance of loving your fellow believers and not causing division, and he’s also talking about loving every neighbor. In the 3-minute span that you stand at at customer service desk, that employee is your neighbor.
Not only is it important to be gracious and loving to customer service workers, but Paul says that it’s a matter of spiritual life and death: “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life… For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” We are to be obedient by spreading the incense of Christ wherever we are, leaving our all-powerful God to do the work in the hearts of His people.
We as believers don’t get to go off duty when we’re traveling or stressed. That’s actually the best time to let the light of Christ shine to customer service workers who… well, who usually see the darker side of humanity. Instead, when we “speak in Christ,” they get to experience the fragrance of the Lord and all that He is.
*I also spend some time on the phone with Julie, Amtrak’s automated phone answering service. But she doesn’t count since she’s a robot. I’m usually not nice to her. She is the very darkest side of humanity.