Improving Customer Service on the Inside

“If we want our external customer service to be first rate, our internal customer service must be first rate first.”-

Does your company have a robust customer service system for external customers? We are sure the answer to this would be a yes. However, what about customer service on the inside? Your company must have a culture where employees are always ready to help each other and be willing to ‘serve’ co-workers in their own team and other departments as well. Irrespective of the industry or kind of business, top class customer service on the inside will ensure that your external customers receive great service too – the most critical element of a company’s success. Customer service on the inside is not to be treated lightly since without support and care to those working within the company, the chances of conflicts, stress and division are very high. This in turn would mean lowered productivity, increased absenteeism, poor morale and high employee attrition – none of which would be beneficial to a company. Focusing on customer service on the inside would lead to external customers receiving service and attention that would be desirable to them.

Most companies make the mistake on continually emphasizing the importance of service to external customers and completely ignore their internal customer service. Just as your company would ask its external customers, what they feel about the company and its service, so also to improve customer service on the inside, it would be imperative to ask the people working with your company. Many companies do conduct surveys to ‘feel the pulse’ of their people – and most often these surveys are anonymous to allow employees to say what they feel without fear. This provides a clearer picture of the reality within the organization and makes it easier for companies to put processes and strategies in place to improve their customer service on the inside. Collecting, collating and analysing the results of such surveys are a positive direction towards improving the overall environment in the company and to foster cooperation and mutual benefit.

Whatever your internal customers convey either through surveys, to one another or to their immediate supervisors, must be treated as feedback. Most of the time, the issues could simply be done away with through training and coaching, which should be a regular feature in a company. To improve customer service on the inside, the teams that are ‘support functions’ should be the ones to receive foremost attention. Their understanding of this kind of customer service must be accurate for them to respond to others swiftly, effectively and with a positive mind-set. Unfortunately, these teams are so overworked and ignored, that they often slide in their responsibilities, which in turn affects the internal operations and team synergies. By soliciting feedback, the company would be able to help all its employees to understand the value and crucial nature of customer service on the inside and as a result affect positivity and cohesion. In addition, when employees see their feedback and opinions translated to action, they would be happier to contribute toward helping the company and each other. Improvements and actions taken basis their feedback would make them feel valued and important – especially the support functions, encouraging them to ramp up their contribution and work processes.

To ensure that customer service on the inside remains consistently good with incremental improvements on a regular basis, it is important for the company to treat this as a process. Getting feedback just as a one-off would not suffice since the company and the market would be subject to changes, unless employees cooperate with each other and customer service on the inside becomes a culture, it would be hard for any company to serve its external customers well. Even if formal surveys do not happen more than twice a year, leaders and managers must ensure that they speak with their teams and make every effort to understand the challenges the employees face and to listen to the ideas they may have to do away with the challenges. Most often customer service on the inside fails since companies get too busy with other business challenges and tend to let seemingly small issues go by in the hope that they would be sorted out on their own. Employees on the other hand may not perceive the issues as small and this could lead to strife, miscommunication and misunderstandings, which could turn into full-fledged conflicts and high stress situations.

If a company expects its people to focus on customer service on the inside, the effort must first happen from the company and its leaders. The work environment must be one of support and understanding especially for those teams that serve all the other teams within the company and the teams that interface with customers directly. Ensure that your company shows them that their work is appreciated by putting in place a robust reward and recognition program specifically for these teams. Any behaviour and effort towards serving both internal and external customers must not go unnoticed – a word of praise in public goes a long way in encouraging such positive behaviour. Consistent efforts towards customer service on the inside and outside must receive monetary rewards or at least something tangible – not only would this encourage the person but would motivate others to do the same.

Another sure shot method to improve and sustain customer service on the inside is to ensure open communication and an ‘open door policy’ within the company. This means that any employee could speak about their problems and issues to their immediate manager and if not satisfied with the response, could seek the help of a more senior person. When people function without fear of reprimand, retribution or ridicule, they are more amenable to helping each other and the company’s external customers. If people are not heard or are blamed for things that go wrong, no one would be willing to try new things, give suggestions or even help each other. They would be too busy ‘minding their back’ – such feelings give rise to discontent, stress, conflicts and breakdown of customer service on the inside, which over time cause irreparable damage to the company.

The leaders of the company should conduct themselves responsibly since their actions would be emulated by others. Any changes within the company must be conveyed to all in a clear and swift manner. Not doing so could result in murmurs and vicious rumours that would cause serious damage to the work environment and result in diminishing the feeling of customer service on the inside. It is vital that gossip and rumours be tackled immediately, as they could potentially affect the self-esteem of some employees within the company. If left unchecked, this negativity would spread and people could begin looking for employment outside of the company, leading to mass attrition, which for any company can prove to be a major obstacle.

Customer service on the inside must permeate the company by starting at the top. The personal lives of employees would affect their professional life and vice-versa. Ensure that your employees receive adequate compensation and benefits, have reasonable workloads and enough time to deal with personal issues as well. Managers and leaders must receive training to equip them to identify employees that could be facing personal problems leading to lowered productivity and feelings of cooperation within their job. When employees know that the company truly cares for them, they would be more open and willing to receive help to resolve their issues. Strong and happy employees are a lot better at delivering customer service on the inside and outside. Speaking to employees and taking extra time to understand their problems are not additions to a job – they are in fact essential to the success of the company. Care, respect and empathy improve productivity, get employees to stay with the company and increase their willingness to provide customer service on the inside and in turn to external customers as well.

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