Uplifting Customer Service: A Job from the Inside Out

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The immediate assumption when we talk about “improving customer service” is that we refer to the activities of customer-facing team members who directly “serve” our external customers, clients, buyers, suppliers, guests, users,  attendees, diners, students, patients, etc.

And in fairness, most service education is indeed intended for those who “face” customers – improving the quality of service for those who pay for our services.

But seeing service improvement as mostly a frontline, customer-facing issue will not foster the development of an uplifting service culture where all employees embrace the goal of constantly adding value for others. It is by creating this value – inside and outside the company –  that firms compete and grow. Thus a key component of building service culture is working closely with those on the inside – all the internal service partners who work and interact with each other to provide an organization’s products and services.

When someone serves a customer, there is a necessary chain of people behind them that support what they do and how they do it. Any weak link could cause the service provided to break down. The folks in IT, HR, Finance, or Legal. Those on the plant floor, in Facilities or Operations. Even temporaries hired for projects or to fill-in for absent workers.

If the quality of their service on the inside is lacking, how can their colleagues facing customers and clients be expected to provide highest quality service?  If Sales needs a custom order in a hurry, it cannot happen if Production has no motivation to serve. How can a new team member be motivated to exceed if HR does not onboard or orient them with an exceptional service experience?  Why sould retail clerks go out of their way to help if managers don’t go out of their way to help them?

If you seek to change the quality of perception of your organization’s customer service, focus on the inside,  too.

If you manage an internal department, here is an exercise to pose to your team. Imagine the work of your group has been spun off – outsourced – and you have formed your own firm to provide the same services: HR, Finance, Legal, IT, Facilities, etc. All of a sudden, those who you were serving on the inside are now on the outside. Given the service you were providing, would they hire you back? Should they? What would you change about your service you were providing to be sure you got the job?

Does your work look different to you now? How is the quality of your service when perceived objectively –  or competitively – from the outside? What level of service are you providing? What level have you been receiving? How can it be improved? Are there processes that are broken, or don’t yet exist, that would ensure you provide better service?  Are your leaders encouraging internal service excellence? Are you and your colleagues delivering it?

And what about all the other departments that also provide internal service? Remember, as you improve your service to others, you will earn the trust and respect of your colleagues. You will inspire them, and you can ask for the same quality of service in return.

Want to be known for uplifting service by all those you serve on the outside? Start by uplifting the service you provide, to everyone you meet, on the inside.

Posted On: 26 May 2011
Categories: Service Culture
Tags: , , ,


8 Responses

  1. Su Lynn says:

    Sadly, seems the service culture in my company is to push from pillar to post! Ron, it’s easier said than done. Unfortunately, these are deadwoods who refuse to change their attitude despite sending them for all kinds of customer service culture :
    They believe their jobs are very secured, no way they could be fired, very complacent. Those who can work are loaded with more. So what’s your advice?

  2. Ali Hemani says:

    Excellent article. Makes perfect sense!!

    With service – overall effeciency will increase. Revenues will increase above your expectation. Most importantly you will have loyal customers and customers who will refer new customers to you on regular basis.

    It is all true but hard to acheive in many enviroments….. Reason: 1) internal staff do not understand what service mean – its not in their nature and changing nature is very difficult ….. 2) Lack of trust / baseless competition / internal politics are also the reason it gets difficult to acheive what has been said in the article.

    However, i beleive all the above issues can be tackled in few minutes only… 1) if the top management are aware of the issues – lot of time they do not know what cooking underneath them…. 2) At times top management do not have time for these kind of issues and they rather focus on revenue generating activities…. which in my opinion is totally wrong… as solving these issues will generate more revenue then they running after the new business

  3. Anirban Sinha Ray says:

    A truly ‘service oriented culture’ requires some real push from up to down and must incorporate all the functional department, a departmental/ functional approach will essentially alienate the organization from client community

  4. Jeff Eilertsen says:

    Thanks for everyone’s response thus far. The clear message from all of you is that true service culture change is about leadership. Driven and championed from the top, inclusive of all employees, with a clear understanding of how service connects to revenue and profitability – all the things Ali mentions. Top to bottom, inside out vs. a departmental “program.” And we have seen dramatic change in organizations whose leaders embrace this approach.

    So what about Su Lynn’s dilemma? Likely a common scenario — employees who feel secure and yet unmotivated — not “engaged” — to think twice about service, either internal or external. Realistically, until leaders identify the loss that poor service is brining, significant change will not occur.

    Yet as an optimist I believe in the “power of one.” Many years ago, I knew a corporate librarian who pleaded with company leaders to look at the potential of this new thing called “the Internet.” She was ignored. They viewed it as a techy toy with no potential for generating revenue or increasing efficiencies. Not willing to be defeated, she took up a one-person campaign to educate leaders on this powerful technology. Providing research, articles and examples in one-on-one meetings with leaders, she eventually prevailed. That company went on to be ahead of the competition in harnessing the Internet to their business.

    If you can build service around you –even in a small department, if you can show its impact, if you can educate leaders one by one you may be able to influence change slowly. What experience do others have? How do you influence leaders to see the value of superior service?

  5. Leandro de Almeida says:

    I totally agree with this article when it says we need to pay attention and be supportive to our internal people while focusing on customers. No company can provide great service to the external world if the internal culture does not foster the cooperation and if the mood is not of a winning team.

    But it’s a real challenge to get such a strong positive spirit inside the organization. I see some conditions for that.

    First, inspiration needs necessarily to come from leadership, especially from the top management. Great examples of well serving, cooperation, enthusiasm need to come from the top. I believe this is a prerequisite to start ‘believing’ in a serious company commitment with the serving mindset.

    Second, all other line management levels must have the genuine desire to serve, i.e., be engaged with the company values and service mindset. Here I see many people limiting themselves to the very strict (or minimum) responsibilities of their roles. “I do what it’s written in my current role profile, not more”. And, besides doing only the minimum, many things are done “pro-forma”, as an obligation. Very, very few line managers know what their roles really mean.

    Finally, for non-leading people, when having great examples, interested and really committed line managers, given that they also have the proper tools, conditions and company environment to perform well, the chance to have a great internal serving organization will be much higher.

  6. Naresh Vassudhev says:

    Perfect. There can be no “Service” leave alone “Uplifting your service” without support functions doing their bit. While “Service Mindset” is individual, Service Delivery is Teamwork.

  7. Allan H Jensen says:

    Insightful article, good practical comments to put it into application.

  8. Vinit says:

    I agree 110% with the above article how truly said, in service business if the support staff does not function the staff facing the customer will not be able to deliver neither they will be able to keep their commitments.
    Example- The sales man can sell a vehicle once by using his sales tecniques and experience but if the service dept does not provide excellent service to the customer than the sales man will not be able to sell the vehicles in the future even if he uses the best possible sales gimmick available.
    Therefore as rightly said team work is the key to success.



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