In a very candid and open discussion with one of my cousins, we broached the subject of how certain restaurants in our country always look lovely on the outside, but somehow always fall short on key things like warm welcomes, mixed up orders and delayed service. In our deeper analysis, we wondered whether having excellent customer service is a sure sign of a good product/ service.
We realised that customer service is an external-focused arena and it is geared towards somebody offering you some form of payment for your service/product. External customers have choices and if they feel your product / service is below par or that your actual customer service is weak, they can take their business elsewhere.
An internal customer on the other hand is anyone in the organisation. It can be a co-worker, a service provider whose products/ services help you achieve your own deliverables for the clients or a department in your organisation that works with you. In simple terms, an internal customer has no choice. A simple definition of an internal customer is anyone within an organization that, at any time, is dependent on anyone else within that organization. This internal customer can be someone you work for as well as someone who works with you. For example, if the business development department doesn’t like the finance departments credit policies, they can’t fire that department and hire another.
Excellent customer service creates customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and customer retention. So really, what is the fuss about internal customers, especially when retention isn’t an issue?
Outstanding internal customer service is simply good business. Internal customer service can flourish only in high communication environment. To create positive internal customer service, all departments work together cooperatively, agree on processes and procedures, and negotiate expectations. Like gears meshing in sync, interdependent business units meet each other’s needs, work productively together to meet common goals, and deliver high quality products and service to the external customer.
Everyone within your organization affects the outside customer, and virtually everything you’ve read or learned about customer service in general applies to the internal customer. What is not mentioned however frequently you notice it and discuss it quietly amongst your colleagues is that for an internal customer system to work with good harmony, a good enough atmosphere must be created; a sort of roundtable atmosphere where everyone is keen on sharing and helping the other and in essence being an internal customer of each other.
Whether you are a subordinate staff, mid-level manager, senior officer, director or business owner, it is imperative that you do not take being an internal customer for granted and pay attention to the following tips aimed at creating the above talked about harmonius ambience
Here are some tips for creating that atmosphere:
1. Start with your own perspective: Regard fellow employees and other departments as your customers. Understand that helping your colleagues do their jobs more successfully helps your organization and you. Therefore they are your customers. Treat them almost like VIPs without feeling like you are kissing their behinds
2. Set clear expectations. As an internal provider of service, you are responsible for setting clear guidelines about what internal customers can reasonably expect. Last minute requests are typically due to poor planning on the part of the internal customer. However, if someone reaches out to you with a request while you’re working on something time sensitive, talk with them and identify how important his or her task is relative to yours. If they have unrealistic expectations, explain your workflow, priorities, processes, and timelines. Then, reinforce your goal to provide top-notch service for them
3. Get to know your teammates/ fellow internal customers. Go to lunch with co-workers in other departments or schedule quick calls just to check in and see what’s happening in their department. At BLEGSCOPE most of our team works on select projects in small teams, so it has become relatively easy to get to know each other. If you are in an organisation that has its staff working remotely, it may take a little more effort most of your colleagues, but it is worth it.
4. Understand the “big picture.” Develop an understanding of how the whole organization works. How does what you contribute fit into the big picture? What do other departments need from you to meet their goals? Think outside of you, your function and department.
5. Always keep customers informed on project progress.Nobody likes to be blindsided by delays or last minute requests for additional information. I like to err on the side of over-communication. If you’ve finished a portion of the request, let them know the status, and when you plan to complete the rest of the project.
6. View interruptions not as nuisances, but as opportunities to serve your internal customers. If someone interrupts you to share gossip, that’s a pothole. If someone interrupts you to ask for sales figures she needs to analyze sales team performance, that’s a necessary lane change that will get your company closer to its destination. Learn to identify every real need from a colleague as a “necessary lane change,” and think of them as an opportunity to move your organization closer to its goals.
7. Exceed your internal customers’ expectations. When someone exceeds your expectations, how do you feel? Most people feel delighted, excited, upbeat and very, very positive about that person and his or her organization. Think what you can accomplish in your organization by exceeding the expectations of fellow employees
8. Make your co-workers feel valued. Recognize them with a smile and call them by name. When someone approaches your desk stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, and be attentive to what they have to say.
9. Develop a positive attitude. Your attitude is reflected in everything you do. It not only determines how you approach your job and your co-workers, but it also determines how they respond to you. Avoid complaining. Do whatever it takes to get the job done—and done right.
10. Identify and anticipate needs. The more you know your customers, the better you become at anticipating their needs. Communicate regularly so that you are aware of problems or upcoming needs.
11. Say thank you. A simple, genuine “thank you” goes much farther to create an atmosphere of sharing and helping than two such small words would suggest. Even when it is a person’s job to provide information or a product to you, tell them “thank you” when they have done it. Express your appreciation of their timeliness in providing it. Explain how it has made your job much easier. Show them your delight when they exceed your expectations.
All in all, your willingness to help others get their jobs done will lead them to readily assist you when you need it.
By Edmund Kamugisha
Edmund is the Engagement Director at BLEGSCOPE®, and has 12+ years of management consultancy experience notably in MSMEs, FMCG companies and in the service industry.
You can follow him on twitter: @edmokmg