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Internal Customer Service

“Motivate them, train them, care about them and make winners out of them…we know that if we treat our employees correctly, they’ll treat the customers right. And if customers are treated right, they’ll come back.”

~J. Marriott Jr.
Most people—even I am guilty sometimes—worry only about how customers of the business (external customers) are treated and put little emphasis on how the staff serves one another or their vendors (internal customers).

The problem with this is that organizations that do not have great internal customer service are not likely to deliver great external customer service. Why? Because in order to provide exceptional service to external customers, staff must first be treated well by the support team around them. You cannot expect a customer service employee to treat customers well when he or she gets terrible service from the staff in other departments.

At the risk of being clobbered by all the IT folks I know, I have to say that IT departments often provide some of the worst customer service I have ever seen. For some reason, this is true in all types of organizations.

Too often I think IT teams have the attitude that helping other departments is an inconvenience that takes away from their other duties. What they fail to realize is that providing great internal customer service is just as important in the IT department as it is in other areas.

To improve your internal customer service, the first thing you can do is make sure as many people as possible are cross trained in different departments. Cross training is one of those critical elements that has so many benefits. First, and probably most important, cross training allows staff to have empathy for their counterparts in other departments. It also cures the tunnel vision that most of us suffer from when we work only in our own departmental silo. Cross training lets employees see how their work impacts other departments.

A second way to improve your internal customer service is to develop service standards similar to those you have for external customers. For example, maybe you set the expectation that all phone calls from fellow staff members are returned within four hours and e-mails are returned promptly as well.

Another thing you can do is create a culture in which your staff views colleagues as valuable customers. Take Ritz-Carlton, for example. Their mantra states, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” They act according to this mantra whether they are dealing with internal or external customers.

Finally there is training. If you want to improve your internal customer service, you must train your staff continuously in these standards of behavior.

Now go out and evaluate your internal customer service to determine how it stands up against your external customer service. Next develop a plan to bring your internal customer service to a level that is as good as or better than your external customer service.

You can do this!

Published: September 29, 2014

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Jerry Osteryoung

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses—he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His latest book, coauthored with Tim O’Brien, “If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book,” is a bestseller on Amazon. Email Jerry @ jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com

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