What Is Service Orientation?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Explore service orientation and the ways it can manifest in your personal and professional life, including increased social awareness, an emphasis on customer service, or practicing service leadership.

[Featured Image] A young woman sits in a kitchen with a tablet and volunteers with a senior citizen to help improve her service orientation skills.

Service orientation describes a mindset for serving others by understanding and catering to their needs. A service mindset helps you form deeper relationships, motivate your employees, develop loyal customers, and more. Developing service orientation, either personally, in a leadership role, or to strengthen customer service practices, means improving skills like empathy, community-building, listening, persuasion, and awareness.

Use this article to learn about service orientation, how to develop this mindset, and various careers you can pursue that focus on providing service to others.

What is service orientation?

At the core, service orientation is about serving others. But people use the phrase to describe a few different situations: a personal sense of service, a focus on delivering customer service, and service leadership.

  • Personal sense of service: The first way to think about service orientation is how you serve others or give back to your community. For example, you might volunteer your time to help others on a service trip or in community volunteering.

  • Customer service orientation: In business, service orientation is sometimes synonymous with customer service orientation, finding ways to go above and beyond while serving the customer.

  • Service leadership: As a leader, your service orientation to your team members is often called service leadership.

Service orientation vs. customer service orientation 

As we mentioned above, service orientation can refer to more than one situation, but it's commonly used as shorthand for customer service orientation. Customer service orientation is a process of finding ways to improve the customer experience that align with business goals by asking all team members to consider the customers at every stage of work, from designing a product to presenting the finished result.

Visualizing service orientation at a job that directly interacts with customers is easy. Imagine a server at a restaurant whose main responsibility is providing direct customer service to restaurant guests. If the customer receives poor service, they may complain to management. If the customer receives great service, they might leave a large tip. Therefore, great customer service benefits tipped employment.

It’s trickier to see how service orientation comes into play with careers that don’t directly involve working with customers. However, you can still benefit from thinking about the end user of any product or service, even if the payoff isn’t quite so immediate. Delivering customer service aligns with business goals to gain customer loyalty and retention. Remembering that your work can be a part of someone’s experience is a way to evoke a service mindset when you feel removed from the customer. 

Service orientation in leadership

What customers are you serving when you are in a management role? For leadership, service orientation begins with approaching your team with the mindset that you are there to help and serve them. This leadership style asks you to put yourself in your employee’s position and consider what they could use to help them succeed. Service-oriented leadership means redefining your idea of success to include the success of others around you.

Service leadership can help you build a creative and motivated team because it helps demonstrate to employees that you care about their success. When you lead by example, you empower your employees to look for ways to increase their service orientation towards customers and other team members.

Examples of service orientation

When you think about industries that focus on providing services, your first thought might be the services you consume. For example, typical service industries include restaurants, retail stores, repair shops, maintenance or cleaning businesses, health care, and education.

However, service industries can also provide services to businesses or individuals in a workplace capacity, such as consultants, design professionals, or data analysts. Service industries can also include those that offer services to the public in general, such as police officers or emergency medical technicians. 

Service-oriented skills

Robert Greenleaf first used the phrase service leadership in his 1970 essay, “The Servant as Leader.” In his work, Greenleaf identified characteristics that leaders with service orientation display. Although Greenleaf adapted these leadership criteria, many also apply to customer service orientation and social awareness that comes with service orientation. Let’s take a closer look at some of these skills and how you can apply them to become a more service-oriented individual, whether in your personal or professional life.

  • Listening: Successful service-oriented leaders can listen to their team and make their employees feel heard. Listening is also important for customer service because you want to give the customer what they want, and it’s important to hear them out and fully understand what they are looking for.

  • Empathy: Service-oriented leaders can imagine themselves in the place of others to understand their emotions and difficulties. Similarly, when customers have a problem, they often want to feel like someone cares about the problem more than they want a refund or another resolution.

  • Self-awareness: A service mindset means a realistic understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. With a nuanced understanding of the situations that make you feel motivated or lose your temper, you can regulate your emotions more effectively to provide good service to your customers or team.

  • Healing: Service leaders make space for individuals who may be healing from traumatic experiences or relationships. You won’t always get people on their best behavior in customer service. Making space for people who are in a bad place emotionally and practicing patience will help you keep calm when tensions are high.

  • Persuasion: While a leader may be able to exert their will through the force of their power, a servant leader understands the power of persuading others to do what you want them to instead. Similarly, you might think of persuasion as a sales skill, but it’s also useful when helping customers after something has gone wrong.

  • Commitment to growth: Service-oriented leadership means helping your employees grow in their professional lives, such as offering additional training. A willingness to improve can help you look for new ways to provide even better customer service, as you may need to meet rising customer expectations in your business.

Who uses service orientation?

Service orientation is a mindset that helps you give back to your community, whether in your personal time or while working. Leaders can adopt a service leadership style to build strong relationships with their coworkers. Industries specializing in service and such relationship building include education, cleaning, repair, customer service, health care, public safety, and more.

Service-oriented careers

So far, we’ve discussed how service orientation can apply to any career, even leadership. But if you are interested in a career dedicated to serving others, you might want to go even further than customer service and deliver service to your community and country. You can find many ways to help your community and dedicate your career to helping and serving others. A few examples to consider are becoming an Armed Forces member, emergency medical technician, police officer, or firefighter.

1. Active duty member of the US Army 

Average annual base US salary: $58,000 [1]

Job outlook (Department of Defense): "Regardless of the economy, the military offers a secure job and a regular paycheck" [2].

Requirements: To enlist, you must be a US citizen or validated permanent resident in good health and moral standing, between the ages of 17 and 35, earn a high school diploma or equivalent, and pass an entry-placement exam. To become an officer, you must be a US citizen between the ages of 17 and 31, in good physical, mental, and moral health, earn a college degree, and pass security clearance.

As an active duty service member of the Army, you can have a military occupational specialty or a job placement. The military has many different positions where you can work as a soldier and develop your skills. Many careers that you can pursue as a civilian you can also pursue as an active duty service member, such as becoming a doctor or lawyer. You can also have the chance to start a career you may not be able to start as a civilian. 

2. Emergency medical technician

Average annual base US salary: $50,946 [3]

Job outlook (projected growth from 2022 to 2032): 5 percent [4]

Requirements: The requirements to become an emergency medical technician vary state by state, but in many cases, you may need to complete high school and a non-degree training program. You may also need to become CPR-certified.

As an emergency medical technician, you can respond to emergency calls to assess individuals' conditions and perform life-saving medical interventions. You can also work with a team to transport patients to medical facilities. In non-emergency situations, you may help patients with limited mobility transport between medical facilities.

3. Police officer

Average annual US salary: $63,222 [5]

Job outlook (projected growth from 2022 to 2032): 3 percent [6]

Requirements: You may be able to become a police officer after earning a high school diploma and completing an in-house training program. Some agencies require additional education, such as completing a degree or non-degree program in criminal justice.

As a police officer, you can respond to calls for assistance in both emergency and non-emergency situations. You may patrol assigned areas and watch out for signs of trouble, conduct investigations, gather evidence, and arrest people suspected of committing a crime. In this role, you’ll help protect the greater community.

4. Firefighter

Average annual US salary: $54,212 [7]

Job outlook (projected growth from 2022 to 2032): 4 percent [8]

Requirements: To become a firefighter, you may need to earn your high school diploma and complete training at a fire academy or emergency medical services training. You may need to earn and maintain credentials to continue in this field. 

As a firefighter, you can work in a team to respond to emergency calls. In case of a fire, you can work to put the fire out and help people evacuate from life-threatening situations. In many cases, you can respond to calls for medical assistance or assist with accidents, such as traffic accidents. In this role, you may also be responsible for maintaining equipment, and you may speak to groups like schools about safety.

How to develop service orientation

Whether you are developing your service orientation individually or leading a group toward a service mindset, here are some tips to help you succeed.

  • Focus on each skill one at a time: The customer service skills we listed above are a guide to the skills you may need to develop, and you can also make your own list of skills you want to improve on personally. Help your team with actionable steps they can take to improve each of these traits.

  • Get customer feedback: One way to understand your strengths and weaknesses in customer service is to ask the people who use your goods or services. Getting feedback is an essential step in developing an action plan to improve.

  • Set goals: Once you have metrics to measure, set goals for you or your team to improve. Not only can you be able to measure progress in real time, but you can also implement an incentive program to help employees meet their goals.

Learn more with Coursera.

To learn even more about customer service or service orientation, consider Customer Service Fundamentals, a course offered by Knowledge Accelerators on Coursera. This program is designed to help you learn about problem-solving, process management, and communication in relation to customer service.

Article sources


Glassdoor. “US Army Soldier Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/US-Army-Soldier-Salaries-E41322_D_KO8,15.htm.” Accessed February 27, 2024. 

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