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They may be colleagues – but they’re still customers!

A number of years ago I was running a series of customer focused workshops for the Head Office staff at a national company that provided professional services to a wide range of customers.

This particular morning I was concentrating on “Internal Customer Service”. The session was going well…until we got to the morning coffee break and this group’s Senior Managers came up to me for a “chat”. He’d been quiet during the session and I thought he was absorbing rather than contributing, but hey that’s OK.

He looked me in the eye and asked me, with some obvious incredulity, “So are you really saying that how I treat my staff has a direct impact on how they treat customers?”

As this had the main point of the morning session, I said, “Absolutely and…” that was as far as I got as he interrupted me with “Bollocks!” and walked off.

He never returned after the break and I never saw him again during any of our sessions! Thank God!!!

Now I accept that this was an extreme, idiosyncratic and downright ignorant point of view – and, I hope and pray, an equally isolated one – but a more pervasive form of internal customer non-care is visible in more workplaces than you can shake a stick at.
I define Internal Customer Service as effectively serving other departments or individuals within your organisation. How well are you providing other departments and individuals with service, products or information to help them do their jobs? How well are you listening to and understanding their concerns? How well are you solving problems for each other to help your organisation succeed?

Generally, the answer appears to be “Not very well!”

Let’s look at this simply…

Can an employee who is overworked, underpaid, and not respected day in and day out, provide great customer service? Talk about “fake it ‘til you make it.”

According to the Gallup Organization:

• 19% of employees are very negative about their work. These employees are considered actively disengaged – also known as “out to lunch.”

• 55% of employees are apathetic or uninterested

• 70% of employees feel no obligation to stay with their current employer

• 90% of voluntary resignations are due to feeling under appreciated

We’ve seen statistics similar to these before. In fact, they haven’t changed much in the past 10 years, despite all the ups and downs in our economy – but what changes you do see are NOT for the better!

I believe that the only way to change that is by focusing on real engagement – and that’s not about providing gourmet café lunches, slippery dips instead of staircases and pool tables on site (I know these work for Google – but not in isolation!)

I’m a fan (not huge, but…) of Sir Richard Branson, but one of my favourite quotes of his was, “The secret to Virgin’s success was that I hired the best people I could afford and then got out of their way and let them do the job I’d hired them to do”

How many Managers could say the same and keep a straight face?

If you ask ANYONE what they associate with the US retailer NORDSTROM, the chances are they will say CUSTOMER SERVICE…

Nordstrom’s exceptional customer service comes primarily as a result of two main components, firstly their attention to DETAIL when it comes to the customer experience and secondly, the level to which they EMPOWER their employees.

These two factors in tandem create an unstoppable customer service engine that continues to create stories that turn into legends…

One of the most wide-spread facts known about Nordstrom is the effectiveness of its Employee Handbook given to staff when they first join the company. It goes something like the following:

“Welcome to Nordstrom
We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager ANY question at ANY time.”
Compare that to the handbooks of other companies that can run several manuals long and you come to realise just how much Nordstrom empowers its employees to use their “good judgement.”

I will be writing more about the role of “engagement” in good customer service in more blogs soon – but for now let me end with a quote from the ex-CEO of the SAS Group. I want you to read this three times: –

“If you’re not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is.” Jan Carlzon.

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