Serving Inside Out


A company’s progress hinges on the progress of its people. What many organizations often overlook in their search for ways to improve their level of external customer service is the importance of their internal customer service.

In the big picture, the person who is most affected, positively or negatively, by the work we do is our customer. Every person, in every role, at every level, in every organization has customers. Every team member is a link in the customer-service chain. To some degree, each individual is responsible for creating world-class customer service. When a team member not dealing directly with customers drops the ball or is slow to respond to another team member’s organizational need, they are weakening the external customer service.

Internal customer service is the support we provide team members and the attitudes that go along with that support. All the players within an organization need to be treated like the vital components they are. For an organization’s external customer service to be first rate, its internal customer service must be first rate first.

There is overwhelming evidence of the direct relationship between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. External customer satisfaction rarely rises above internal customer satisfaction. In other words, it is tough to raise our level of external customer service higher than our internal customer service. If a company wants its employees to exceed customer expectations, a solid first step is for the company to create a work environment that exceeds the employees’ expectations.

In many organizations it is common to find that employees and co-workers—internal customers—don’t treat each other nearly as well as they do the organization’s external customers.  This is unfortunate because internal customer service touches all aspect of a business including morale and productivity. Companies that suffer in internal customer service usually face challenges with turnover and absenteeism as well as lower external customer satisfaction.

One of the surest ways to drastically reduce negativity among employees and external customer service issues is to create work environments that are upbeat, positive and collaborative.  It is well documented that team members who receive solid internal customer service are more likely to voluntarily offer assistance to other team members.

Our feelings about our internal customers are on display with every internal contact. It shows in how we greet co-workers at the beginning of the day. It shows in what we do when a superior asks for information needed to wrap up a project. It shows in how quickly we respond to that sometimes pushy salesperson who asks for information about a group of clients.

How can we expect team members to care about and listen to customers when they are not offered the same by other team members or management?

A pledge of internal service must be felt all the way through a company, from head to toe and back again. Nordstrom’s, Disney and Southwest Airlines—all touting world-class service buzz—didn’t get that way without everybody in the company being enthusiastically on board. It is an ideology, an understanding that everybody serves and lifts up everybody else in the organization and that everyone within the organization has an effect, positive or negative, on the outside customer.

Here are some ideas to help your company get there.

1.  View co-workers as customers. Helping fellow employees do their jobs more efficiently and effectively helps your organization and you. It is important to learn to view interruptions that are organization-focused as solid opportunities to help your organization. When your organization progresses, you progress.

Providing services that help other team members rock and roll is what it is all about.  Get jazzed about your role in sharing information and take pride in helping your colleagues.  As a bonus: when you are cool about helping co-workers get their jobs done, they will likely be cool about helping you.

2.  Show appreciation. Smile, say thank you and mean it. We thank external customers, right?  We know we should never take our external customers for granted. The same goes for our internal customers.

3.  Have fun together. Create an office softball or bowling team or, better yet, come up with something unique that fits your company vibe. Sure, some of your ideas might take some extra time and money, but the company-wide results will far surpass the effort and added expense. Even a monthly breakfast or lunch on the company dime is good for morale.

4.  Don’t air dirty laundry. Resolve internal conflicts so they don’t seep into the external service. Grumbling and complaining about co-workers and lack of cooperation will start to chip away at your confidence and that of your organization. If we don’t feel good about our team, our team won’t either.

5.  Show appreciation and give compliments. Sincere compliments cost us nothing yet can become priceless for both the giver and receiver. As Mark Twain wrote, I can live for two months on a good compliment.” It takes some confidence to notice good things about others and to tell them about it. Smile, say thank you and mean it. Giving team members a lift has the power of raising our confidence even further because when we start noticing good things about others, we often start noticing more good things about ourselves.

But be careful: compliments that are ill-timed or thought to be insincere are likely to have the opposite effect. Start by finding something, however small, for which to genuinely thank or praise others.

6.  Spread the bounty. When a manager or someone on the team receives a thank-you or a holiday gift from a customer or vendor, sharing it with the team is a strong internal customer service team-building move.

7.  Cherish and cultivate constructive communication. Everyone on the team should be in the loop as to developments within the company. Team members must feel they are not only on the team but important to the team. Just like with our external customers, internal customer feedback needs to be encouraged and their insight followed up on.

8.  Surpass the expectations of your internal customers. I don’t know about you, but I get a kick when someone exceeds my expectations. It makes me want to exceed theirs.  That old saying of under promising and over delivering works with internal customers as well.

Business consultant and speaker Dean Lindsay is author of The Progress Challenge: Working and Winning in a World of Change and Cracking the Networking CODE.

>>Top 10 For Customer Service

  2. Marriott
  3. Hilton
  4. UPS
  5. FedEx
  6. Google
  7. State Farm
  8. Samsung
  9. Trader Joe’s
  10. Lowe’s

Source: MSN Money’s 2013 Customer Service Hall of Fame

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