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Slow to Flow

How Learning Customer Service Skills Made My Husband a Better Son

Every Friday, our newsletters are going to be focused on the lessons we’ve learnt in our lives that have helped us at work and at home.

By Ambreen Dar

6 min read

This story was told to me by my husband Sam, who you may occasionally see drifting around making things blink and buzz on the backend of Hey Rebekah.

Growing up is like a rollercoaster ride. We start off as cute little babies, learn a bunch of cool stuff at school, and boom—adulthood hits us like a ton of bricks.

Adulting comes out of nowhere. Paying taxes, working 9-to-5, and being responsible. He's had it good compared to so many and he don't take that for granted.

But that doesn't mean it's been a cakewalk.

For example, nobody warned Sam that being a grown-up doesn't come with a happiness guarantee. Or that having a job doesn't automatically mean rolling in dough.

First flight out

Right after college, Sam headed out to the Far East to start a career with a big management consulting firm. It was everything he'd been striving for:

  • Good company ✅
  • Challenge ✅
  • Decent pay ✅
  • Opportunity for advancement ✅
  • World travel ✅
  • Independence ✅
  • Cheap beer ✅
  • Good food ✅

His parents were proud, his sister was delighted she finally got space to expand her empire at home, and Sam was kind of pumped. Over the course of the next year, he put my head down and hustled.

Sam was off to a good start. From a base in Hong Kong, he'd traveled to Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and Vietnam. Next year, off to visit clients in China, India, the Middle East, and Africa.

As a systems analyst, his work was repetitive but challenging. Sam was learning new things daily and getting better at it.

Ruthless routines

Sam traveled home a couple times his first year. It was always great. However, after his second trip, Sam realized what a toll the 20 hour journey to the past—then back to the future—was taking.

The next year, Sam was more engrossed in work than before. His responsibilities were increasing and colleagues were depending on him. Sam used this as an excuse to skip the first planned trip home because he couldn't afford the downtime.

Strangely, it was about this time that he noticed that he was feeling burned out by the ruthless routine at work. It probably played a part in Sam's decision to skip the first trip home without realizing it.

Not home for the holidays

Around late September that year, Sam was on what was almost a daily phone call with his folks before he left the office. A few other colleagues—including his boss Doug—from the US often hung around and did the same. The company Sam worked for had a direct patch to the US and gave access to free calls.

That night, Doug overheard what must have been a louder conversation than usual. Sam was telling his mom that he probably wouldn't be coming home for dad's birthday and Thanksgiving. That didn't sit well with her of course and she was concerned to say the least.

Doug perfectly timed his departure to coincide with Sam's. He neatly stacked some loose papers on his desk, straightened out a pen or two and grabbed his stuff. Sam was a little embarrassed by the louder moments of the call and wondered if Doug had noticed.

He had. But his reaction was not what Sam expected. In fact, that brief chat with him had a profound impact on Sam's life and changed it forever.

The most important customers

After some casual banter, Doug asked if everything was alright. He was concerned. First he talked about work and how interacting with clients and colleagues. He framed the discussion in a way that was very relatable.

He had observed the professional approach Sam had developed while dealing with clients. It was often tough because of the complex and technical nature of their work. He then highlighted a particularly difficult client example and asked Sam to explore why and how he managed to maintain composure in that situation.

They had a livid client, the client was pretty transparent about it, and the whole engagement was on the line. Sam was a member of the team it got dumped-on to fix.

Then Doug subtly let the conversation he overheard with Sam's parents slide in to the awakening. He started by empathizing with the challenges of being away from home. Then he helped Sam realize that it wasn't just him facing the challenge. It was also the people at home. The people who love us. The people who's community we're a part of.

Doug shared a piece of advice that Sam never forget. He said something like:

Life is kind of funny. At work, we're faced with tough colleagues and impossible clients. Yet, we usually find a way to maintain composure and cope with the situation.
Why? Probably because we're in work mode, get paid, and there's a general expectation that the client is always right. No matter what, we never cross a line.
Yet, in our personal lives we often neglect people who love us, in the name of work. We're impatient, less tolerant, and dismissive. We cancel plans easily, we're late, we don't follow up. Stuff that we'd never do at work.
What if we treated them the same way we treat our clients?
What if we treated the people who love us as the most important clients in our lives?

A fresh perspective

This was Sam's first real introduction to the difference between urgent vs. important. After which, he rarely missed a meeting with his parents. Following up routinely with his sister and friends became clockwork. Sam was present when they were together.

He was more empathetic when they were livid and sought reasonable solutions. And finally, Sam was more understanding with his community of loved ones, including when he learned that his mom had been calling his boss on a weekly basis to check in on Sam. 🤦🏽

Sam has learned that at work, keeping clients happy leads to better business outcomes. Keeping his community happy in his personal life—using the skills he applies everyday professionally—leads to better personal outcomes.

Ambreen Dar

About Ambreen Dar

Ambreen designs for thrillseekers. She left the classroom behind to chase adventures in publishing, then dove into digital marketing's deep end. New tricks abound, but Ambreen's four furry fans still think she's top dog. Alongside Rebekah and Sam, Ambreen makes BRIL.LA's magic - and wouldn't have it any other way.