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Customer Service and the Pursuit of Happiness

Cs_reader_sm Does happiness at work matter? Most of your life is spent going to work, being at work, going from work, thinking about work, and talking about work after work. If you work in customer service, and are not happy with your job, you have the wrong job. You should find the calling that makes you happy. When you are happy at work, you’ll never have to work another day.

Most people don’t expect to find happiness, working a customer service job. But customer service, by its very nature, presents unique opportunities for the pursuit of happiness, not only for individuals, but for society as a whole.

Researchers in the field of Subjective Well-being (happiness) have found that there are certain characteristics that happy people have in common. Happy people:

  • Have self-control
  • Are grateful
  • Have good social relationships, supportive friends and family
  • Have an adequate income
  • Have respectable jobs, and
  • Have a philosophy that provides meaning to their lives.

Using this framework, can we, as providers, find happiness through customer service?


The consistent practice of outstanding customer service behaviors requires an extraordinary amount of self-control. It starts with the realization that YOU are in control.

  • You choose your attitude
  • You choose your response
  • You choose to set aside your personal problems
  • You choose to give others a better day

When we take control, we refuse to be victims of circumstance, or of our own personal weaknesses. We take charge of our lives and of the situations that we face. This is a principal requirement of a life in service and, as it turns out, a principal requirement for a happy life.


"Thank you" is perhaps that the second most important customer service phrase. We use it (or ought to use it) dozens of times a day (thank you for calling, thank you for bringing that to my attention, thank-you-come-again). When we use these phrases authentically - i.e. when we mean what we say - we develop a habit of thankfulness. In Akumal III, Dr Bob Emmons reported research which showed that "people high in gratitude are more satisfied with life, have more vitality, more happiness, more optimism, hope, positive affect, lower psychological symptoms, more prosocial behaviors, and are higher on empathy".

Good social relationships

When you consistently practice customer service values and skills, such as kindness, listening, empathy, gratitude, responsibility, and persuasion, you develop habits that will stay with you for the rest of your life, and that can be applied to all other aspects of your life. You'll be able to make friends more easily, and will be better skilled at strengthening your relationships with your friends and family. They in turn will tend to reciprocate. People who are happy have strong relationships with friends and family. This is both a characteristic of happy people, and a consequence of their behavior.

Adequate income

There is a premium in the labor market for outstanding customer service providers. More important, we have the opportunity to constantly increase both our short-term and long-term income by applying our customer service skills. As Henry Ford once said, one who is “absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits. They will be embarrassingly large.”

Respectable jobs

This has two components. There’s the respect that you get for how you do your job, and there’s the respect you get for having that job. It’s not easy to provide outstanding customer service to every customer, on every transaction, every minute of the day. If you can do that, that’s something you can truly be proud of, and it’s certainly deserving of respect. Chances are you already stand out, and are duly rewarded.

The second component, respect for the job itself, depends less on the individual, and more on the team as a whole. When everyone in your organization or location provides outstanding service, people tend to talk about you, and you're likely to be known and respected for the service that you provide. It's a source of pride just to be part of such a team. The hard part is that it does depend on everyone. All it takes is one bad player to ruin the whole game.

A philosophy that provides meaning to their lives

The principles at the root of outstanding customer service are simple enough to say:

  • Our lives have more meaning when we serve others
  • Customer service is, first and foremost, a form of service
  • To serve each other and each customer is to serve humanity

As customer service providers, we touch millions of people each year. Each contact is an opportunity to make each life we touch a little better each day. And when we make people happy, they tend to pay it forward. Through the phenomenon psychologists call the “emotional contagion”, we can be carriers of an epidemic of kindness. We can be weapons of mass construction.

I'll end with some thoughts from some people who are a lot smarter than me:

Everyone can be great because everyone can serve. Martin Luther King Jr

Joy can be real only if people look on their life as a service. Leo Tolstoy

The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive. Only a life lived for others is a life worth living. Albert Einstein

Every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make, not only our own happiness, but that of the world at large. Mohandas  K Gandhi

See also: Q&A with Dr Ed Diener


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