Internal Customer Service: Getting Your Organization to Work Together

Great customer service isn't just about serving the people <i>outside</i> your company.

Providing exceptional customer service lies at the heart of themission of many organizations. It is the central theme of books,articles, motivational seminars and business courses. Its value isundisputed in business circles. What many companies fail to focuson, however, is the primary path to exceptional customer service:internal customer service.

Internal customer service is the service we provide fellowemployees and other departments within our own organizations, aswell as our suppliers and anyone else with whom we work to get ourjobs done. It is what we do when a colleague asks for informationshe needs to complete her main task for the day; it is what we saywhen someone from marketing asks for the addresses of goodcontacts; it is how we greet the vice president of sales when hewalks into our office with an "I need something from you"expression on his face.

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All these things can be seen as interruptions that take us awayfrom our "real" jobs, yet they are vital to ourcompany's success. If you see a gap between your"real" job and the needs of others in your organization,you need to rethink what your real job is. In helping others inyour company, you help your company succeed. Superior internalcustomer service improves morale, productivity, employee retention,external customer service and, ultimately, profitability. As ArthurM. Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the recentlyacquired Atlanta Falcons football team said in his keynote at theMetro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Person ofthe Year Award luncheon, caring for your "associates" isfundamental to caring for your customers and shareholders.

Kirk Miller & Associates recently had the pleasure ofmoderating a breakfast roundtable on internal customer service atthe Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce with co-facilitators Patricia Wheeler of TheLevin Group and JeffFrakes of Performance Innovations Inc. Roundtableparticipants--businesspeople from throughout the metro area--usedforce field analysis to determine the top three "drivingforces" that work to facilitate internal customer service, andthe top three "restraining forces" that work againstinternal customer service.

We draw our tips this month from the number-one driving forcedetermined by the roundtable participants: "creating anatmosphere of sharing and helping." Here are some tips forcreating that atmosphere:

1. Beginwith your own perspective: Regard fellow employees andother departments as your customers. Understand that helping yourcolleagues do their jobs more successfully helps your organizationand you. Therefore they are your customers. Treat them like VIPs.

2. View interruptions not as nuisances,but as opportunities to serve your internal customers.If you tend to view every interruption as a pothole in your road tosuccess, reexamine those interruptions. If someone interrupts youto share gossip, that's a pothole. If someone interrupts you toask for sales figures she needs to analyze sales team performance,that's a necessary lane change that will get your companycloser to its destination. Learn to identify every real need from acolleague as a "necessary lane change," and think ofevery "necessary lane change" as an opportunity to moveyour organization closer to its goals. Take pride in helping yourcolleagues; enjoy your role in sharing information and providingservices that help others get their jobs done. In most cases, yourwillingness to help others get their jobs done will lead them toreadily assist you when you need it.

3. Exceed your internal customers'expectations. When someone exceeds your expectations,how do you feel? Most people feel delighted, excited, upbeat andvery, very positive about that person and his or her organization.Think what you can accomplish in your organization by exceeding theexpectations of fellow employees. If payroll asks for time sheetsby 3 p.m., provide them by 1 p.m. so payroll can relax, knowingthey have the time sheets in hand. If human resources asks for alist of important points to cover in an employee orientation, taketime to think about it and provide a thorough list of what youwould want to know if you were being introduced to a new job andcompany.

4. Say thank you. A simple,genuine "thank you" goes much farther to create anatmosphere of sharing and helping than two such small words wouldsuggest. Even when it is a person's job to provide informationor a product to you, tell them "thank you" when they havedone it. Express your appreciation of their timeliness in providingit. Explain how it has made your job much easier. Show them yourdelight when they exceed your expectations.

Scott Miller is vice president of Kirk Miller& Associates Inc., a management consulting firm that writesand presents highly interactive workshops designed to improveproductivity, retention and morale through developingemployees' soft, or interpersonal, skills.

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