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helloInternal Customers
Internal Customers – They’re Important Too!

During a corporate stint with a cable television service provider, I happened across a service installer with a not-so-pleasant look on his face. I inquired as to the source of his displeasure. He passed me his work orders while saying “Read those Errol and tell me what you would do!” After reading the work orders, it became apparent that he would encounter difficulty in determining what services the customer actually ordered.

I asked “Okay, so what will you do when you arrive at the customer’s home for the installation?” to which he replied, “I’ll ask the customer what they ordered.” That didn’t sound quite right so I asked another question “How does that make you feel?” He responded quickly – “It doesn’t make me feel too good Errol.

I should be verifying what they ordered, not asking!” While it’s important to make sure that a purchasing customer is satisfied, it’s also important to make sure that our internal customers are satisfied as well. Here are the steps that I recommend.

Identify What You Contribute

Get everyone within the organization to identify their product. In other words, what do you create within the organization? Are you able to express your product as a noun? While it’s quite easy to do in a manufacturing setting, it’s not always considered in the service industries. In the above scenario, the product is a work order.

A hospitality industry product might be a reservation. In the training industry, the product might be a manual. A product in the marketing industry could be a brochure. After identifying your product, let’s give it a specific name. Is it a report? What’s the name of the report? Perhaps it’s a sales report or production report. In the hospitality industry example, the reservation may be more specifically defined as a room reservation.

In the scenario above, the product is a work order, but more specifically it’s an installation work order. Be specific in naming your product. Doing so helps you to identify your internal customer. What you produce is more than likely utilized by someone within the organization.

Identify Who Utilizes What You Contribute

After everyone puts a name to their contribution; now get them to identify who utilizes their product. To continue the initial scenario, the product was identified as an installation work order. So quite naturally the installation department utilizes this product.

If equipment is required for the installation, inventory control and/or the equipment warehouse are probably users of this product. If the manual created within the training industry is a sales manual then the sales department is the likely user for this product. The user of the room reservation might be the check-in clerk or the housekeeping department. Now let’s move on to why it’s important to know who utilizes your product.

Identify The Requirements of Your Internal Customer 

I like to say that providing great internal customer service is like baking a cake – you have to know what ingredients are required for the finished product. While some people can probably bake a cake from memory, most of us would require a recipe to make sure we’re including the correct ingredients.

Do you know what ingredients are required by the users of your products? The easiest way to find out is to simply ask! In the room reservation scenario, might it be smart to ask the check-in clerk if the reservation contains pertinent information that allows for a timely customer check-in? If that is not the case, then simply inquire as to what ingredients are required in the quest to provide great customer service to the purchasing customer.

What about that production report? What information do the users of that product require? In what format? How often? Knowing the answers to questions like these helps one to design a product that fits the needs of their internal customers. Consider that patient appointment – what information does your internal customer require to provide great service to the patient?

Design Your Product According To Your Internal Customer’s Requirements 

Now that you’ve identified your internal customer’s requirements, design your product to meet their needs. Doing so insures that when your internal customer utilizes your product, they can do so without the need to make changes as this most often creates delays in workflow or decision-making. If your internal customer deals directly with the purchasing customer, a flawed product design may contribute to a less-than-great customer service experience.

Just as it’s important to design products and services to meet the needs of your purchasing customer, it’s just as important to do the same for your internal customer. You can accomplish this by Identifying What You Contribute, Identifying Your Internal Customer, Identifying the Requirements of Your Internal Customer and by Designing Your Product According To Your Internal Customer’s Requirements.

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helloThink Long Term When Servicing Your Customer
Think Long Term When Servicing Your Customer

When I receive or am told of subpar customer service, I often wonder if the service provider is thinking about the long-term impact of this type of performance.

Providing a service or product to your customers requires one to always think long-term. Customer service decisions made today impact your company’s future.

Thinking long term first of all should mean that the customer is at the forefront of your business strategy. Interactions with your customer should be done in a manner that promotes repeat business.

Customer service personnel must be trained to think long-term and provided with options that allow them to resolve customer issues from a long-term perspective.

A good friend here in Houston called me while he waited for service at a big box retailer. During our conversation, he paused to ask a store employee “So you’re going to bring another person in front of me? You have yet to ask me what I need!” What the store employee didn’t know was that my friend planned to purchase a laptop for his daughter.

Well, he didn’t after this encounter! An acknowledgment of my friend’s presence along with an explanation of the employee’s actions may have led to the purchase of the laptop. Just a moment to consider the long-term impact of ignoring a customer may have led to my friend becoming a long-term customer.

Thinking long-term requires one to consider how to handle a customer complaint. The old adage of “the customer is always right” is not necessarily true in all situations. The customer may have misunderstood, misinterpreted, misread, or just plain wants to have his/her way.

What’s important for the long term is the handling of the situation. Your demeanor, voice tone, body language during phone or face-to-face interactions, and verbiage utilized when interacting via chat or email play a huge role in retaining this customer. Think long-term when formulating solutions to the issue.

Preserve the customer’s dignity when you know that they are just plain wrong. Don’t allow your ego to enter into this interaction. Go into your INP mode. INP means It’s Not Personal. Take a deep breath and think long-term! Weigh the cost of resolving the situation in the customer’s favor against the possibility of losing long-term revenue.

Think long-term when considering changing your service concept or product. How will your customer be impacted by your decision? Is the change the result of customer input? If not, have you considered getting your customer’s feedback on your proposed change? I think we all remember what happened when a famous soft drink company changed the formula for its popular product. Although focus group results appeared positive before launching the change, customers in the southern U.S. held the original formula dear to their hearts.

The backlash from this region was tremendous. Who holds your product or service dear to their hearts? Long-term thinking will help you to ask the right questions of the right people when you’re considering making changes to your service concept or product.

The trash service provider for my subdivision sent out a letter stating that they were changing the truck type from one that requires a crew of three to one that only requires a one-person crew. Now I think that’s great for the expense categories of their budget, but how will this change impact the customer? The new truck’s retractable lift arms called for the customers to utilize a new garbage can – one that is specially made for the lift arms.

I called the company and asked if the customer was responsible for obtaining the proper garbage can or will it be provided by the company. That was six months ago – I’m still waiting for an answer. If the answer comes back that requires customers to purchase the new garbage can, the company will more than likely lose the contract.

My subdivision is small with only 87 homes, but that contract represents about $17500.00 of annual revenue. Long-term thinking is required by the company in making the decision as to who is responsible for purchasing the new garbage cans.

The willingness to think long-term when servicing customers is one of the most important business strategies that you can incorporate into your day-to-day operations. Make sure everyone within the organization is thinking long-term in regard to customer service. Thinking long-term requires one to always ask – “If I proceed in this manner, what is the long-term effect for both the customer and the company?”

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helloThe Impact Of Performance Goals On Customer Service
The Impact Of Performance Goals On Customer Service

Does this sound familiar? “I can’t possibly complete all of this work and meet the goals to receive a raise. It just doesn’t seem fair. I don’t think management understands what it takes to actually do this job”. Employees today are experiencing more stress than ever in this era of economic uncertainty.

It’s very important to align workload and performance goals for long-term positive employee morale, long-term profitability, and long-term productivity. Your customers (both external and internal) are impacted by your performance goals. Here are a few issues to consider.

Performance Goals – Is That The Right Number?

When establishing performance goals, take into consideration the total process required for task completion. Base goals on outcomes over which the employee has control. Where the employee has accountability for additional tasks, factor this into goal setting for the employee’s primary responsibility.

This will lead to setting realistic goals. Spend time with the employees as they actually perform their duties to get a “real world” feel for what it takes to perform the job. Include the employees who actually perform the job in establishing goals. An environment of mutual respect will exist as the employees will feel that they were able to participate in creating their own goals.

The level of service provided to the customer is higher when employees are not overly concerned and stressed out daily about meeting performance goals. Taking these steps has a three-fold effect: 1. Improvement in employee morale. 2. You may be able to create a better process. 3. You should be able to determine if the stated goal is the right goal.

Quality Vs Quantity – Which Is Primary?

Does your reward system encourage quality work? A reward system based on unrealistic performance goals tends to promote quantity over quality. As employees struggle to meet the stated goals, quality will surely suffer as shortcuts become the norm in completing tasks.

This can lead to poor work audit results, rework (how much does this cost at your company?), and customer dissatisfaction. Employees are prone to display a sense of hurriedness when interacting with customers if the workload and performance goals are not balanced.

Those employees choosing quality over quantity will become frustrated as their efforts to perform the job properly are rewarded with inquiries regarding their inability to reach the stated goal. In the quantity-over-quality environment created by unrealistic performance goals, long-term productivity is sacrificed for the short-term goal.

Focus on systemic thinking and make this a high priority when designing reward systems. Reward actions that insure fluid cross-functional handoffs. This helps to build a culture of holistic, systemic-minded employees who understand the impact of their work on the product/service system.

Work Environment – Is This A Healthy Place To Work?

It is very important to create a positive work environment as your bottom line is directly impacted by employee morale. An environment where performance goals are fair and obtainable fosters an atmosphere of teamwork as employees do not feel the need to protect their “numbers”.

Unrealistic goals lead to either unwillingness – for fear of not meeting their own goals or inability – due to unrealistic workload – to truly work as a team. Long-term employee frustration usually results in a lower quality of work which ultimately impacts the external customer.

Stress levels increase possibly leading to health issues. Employee turnover increases, as well as some, will seek relief from an atmosphere they deem unfair and unhealthy.

This directly impacts your bottom line as the level of customer service delivered suffers via productivity lost to the need to hire and train new employees. How much does a dissatisfied customer cost your company? Promote employee quality of life versus the “my work is my life” mindset. Give employees a reason to feel good about coming to work.

Performance goals and reward systems are key components of the business environment. Strive to base both on a “real world” workload. Your long-term success depends on it.

Your customer will feel the impact of performance goals and the workload. Balance these two in order to insure that the customer is positively impacted and gets great customer service.

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helloListen To Your Front Line Employees
3 Reasons To Listen To Your Front Line Employees

During my customer service career, I have often heard the statement – “It doesn’t matter what I think, no one’s listening to what I have to say anyway.” More often than not, these words were verbalized by a front-line employee. It’s important to appreciate and listen to your front-line employees. Here are three reasons not to take them for granted.

They Are the Face of the Company

Whether face-to-face, on the phone, or via web chat with customers, front-line employees are the company to your customers! By the very nature of the position, front-line employees are able to provide invaluable insights into how customers really feel about your products/services.

Remember to treat them in the same manner as they are required to treat the customer. Your willingness to do so sends the message that they are an important component of the organization. Sooner or later, it will be pretty easy to spot an unhappy employee – body language, voice tones, customer complaints, attendance, or all clues to employee morale. It’s important to keep morale high as happy employees create happy customers.

They Have Solutions

It’s common for front-line employees to create “custom” resolutions for reoccurring issues. Through personal experience, I have witnessed front-line employees put their “custom” resolutions in motion in order to deliver a great customer experience.

Maintain open communication with front-line personnel as this encourages the sharing of information. Their solutions keep customers happy which contributes to the profitability of the company. During a corporate stint as an operations analyst, it was common to conduct process analysis projects.

I often found that front-line personnel knew the process and its shortcomings much better than their respective managers. Upon further examination, more often than not, a communication gap existed between management and front-line personnel.

The communication pattern was one of “do this because it’s your job” vs “if we ask you to do this, how does this impact your job?” When more of the latter exists, the customer benefits as frontline personnel feel that their opinion matters, which leads to the provision of a better customer experience.

They’re Human

Probably the most important reason to listen to your front-line personnel is a simple one – they’re human. Front-line personnel wants to feel valued and respected for what they do. Not everyone is capable of servicing customers.

I repeat – not everyone possesses the ability to provide customer service day after day, minute by minute. It takes patience coupled with a good attitude and a highly developed listening ear to consistently meet customer expectations.

I often hear people say “Anyone can answer a phone.” or “It’s pretty simple to take customers’ orders.” Yes, anyone can answer a phone or take customers’ orders – the key is, do you know what to do next? Not everyone has the personality or demeanor to turn an angry customer into a long-term purchaser of the company’s products/services.

The next time you feel like your front-line personnel are not performing to company expectations, carve out some time to get in their shoes. Take on their duties. Ask questions and really listen to the replies. You might be surprised by the knowledge gained from this simple exercise.

Are your front-line personnel an untapped information reservoir? Remember – They Are the Face of Your Company, They Have Solutions and They’re Human. Spend time with your front-line personnel today!

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