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The Internal Customer is Awlays Right

Have you heard about the latest Customer Service craze that is sweeping the nation? It’s called…

Some companies want a "Customer Service" band aid. They want someone to come in and wave a magic wand and poof, now their employees are customer service professionals. But when the magic is gone and the spell wears off, business owners and managers are left wondering what happen. Everyone seemed motivated at the seminar? When I attended the training class it inspired me?

In the previous article Customer Service 101, I talked about how to make a customer into a client, but before that can happen you need to invest in the following. Businesses will spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to hire an outsider to come in and implement a “BRANDED” customer service program. The down side is its like buying A one size fits all shoe. Not sure about you, but that never works for me.

Now, I am not against these “branded” programs and I have sat through several of their training courses and read dozens of the books published on the topic. The problem with many of them is they just talk about how we should treat the external customer. How we can keep the customer coming back. How the customer is always right, But what many fail to address is how to develop the internal customer within.
Who is the internal customer? It’s everyone from the General Manager on down to the newest employee and this includes everyone, not just those who deal directly with the revue customers.

It’s all about working together as a customer service team, everyone is involved, no elitists, no one is more important than the other in the customer service chain of events. Remember, even your Top Sales Person is only as good as the clean bathroom in your store. Your best and brightest phone person is as good as the person who ships out the order.

I once worked for a casino as their Training Manager. They had huge customer service issues and they wanted to know why their employees were not happy. After a few hours of listening to the employees in the break room, I knew the answer. In a Casino, the money makers are the Pit Crew. They are the blackjack, Pai Gow, roulette dealers. Yes, they take in tons of money. Then it’s the slot machine people, and between the two groups you could not fit their ego’s inside of this universe. So I put together a training class and in this class, I thanked the people from these groups for their great contributions, but then asked them how well they enjoyed a clean bathroom? How well they enjoyed the food in the casino? How well they liked the safe and clean environment they worked in? How well they enjoyed getting a paycheck every two weeks? I reminded them that while they may be the ones taking in the money, it was the janitors, security, administrators, food servers, and other support people who were the people who kept the customers coming back.

Everything I have read and all my experiences in the guest/customer service industry has taught me this very important philosophy, “you can preach customer service, but is it really?” You can put a crown on a duck, but it’s still a duck, not a King.

Customer Service begins with how the employees feel at work. Not just the one who sell or services the external customer, but all employees. This includes the person loading and offloading the trucks, cleans the restrooms, does your payroll, and even those desk jockey administrators upstairs. Do not just shine the light of recognition on those who “bring in the money.” I worked for a company that did that and they could never understand why they had extremely high turnover in all the other departments. Treat all your employees as if they were the most important person there and you will find they will treat others the same, to include your customers.

Customer Service programs, whether it’s one you have brought in or one you developed in house. They all live and die by the way you as the Business Owner or Senior Manager sell it to your employees. But just because you sell it to them, remember, you must also honor the warranty. As they say in the industry, a product is only as good as its warranty.

Here is a good example of a failed warranty:

You have an employee who develops a customer into a steady client, but when they come back to the store/restaurant/casino/etc and ask for Don, because he was wonderful and made their last experience such a memorable time that they wanted to experience it again and brought friends along. Problem is Don is no longer with the company because he was being harassed by his co-workers and or boss for “being a kiss ass”, or forced to quit because some ass nine draconian company or HR policy was interfering with his job/life and taking his focus away from his duties and lowering his overall motivation and that customer service?

When I was working summer jobs for several large companies, I observed that you can claim to have "employee friendly" company and HR policies, but if they are not operationally effective and supported by the top echelons of management, they are just as useful as pretty designs on toilet paper.

I experienced this with two large companies during separate summer breaks. These national corporations spent three days of our new hire orientation teaching us about safety, lifting, handling our pallet jacks, never stack to high, never lift alone, never do anything that will jeopardize your safety (safety first).... but when it came time to the actual operational requirements for the position and for you to maintain your over inflated hourly stacking quota, you had to cut safety corners. You had to lift heavy items alone. To meet your hourly share you had to take risks and everyone from the new guy to the most senior manager knew it. When you would remind your supervisor that “doing this was against the policy” you were told “don’t worry about it.”
But this is a classic safety policy versus operational policy? Which one wins out? Which one causes more harm toward productivity, decreases morale, and lowers customer service? Needless to say, both of these companies had a very high turnover rate, extremely high workers compensation claims, and a lot of product damaged. So every week you saw new people and very rarely did you see people with any type of seniority.
Now I am not talking about a challenge to increase productivity. This is something Jack Welch of General Electric is famous for doing. Which, if you have read his books, he first took care of his employees, then as the complete buy in was made, he was able to challenge them all to increase productivity, which they did. Realistic Employee Wellness, Recognition, and Safety programs were put in place first, then the challenge.

The question you’re probably asking is how do you have customer service in a warehouse? Those employees don't see the customers....but they do affect the stores where the overstuffed pallets are going to. So when you take the shrink wrap off your pallet at the store in Shelton, Washington and find your ten boxes of yogurt were stacked under cases of orange juice does that affect the customer service?

Ever gone to a grocery store for a product you really needed and been told the “shipment did not come in.” How does that make you feel as a customer? Ever go to your favorite restaurant with friends, only to find the restrooms are filthy? How about after you have purchased a very expensive item from a wonderful sales person and the delivery is three days late and the person dropping the item off was rude and very unprofessional and the expensive product was damaged
It does not matter if you’re a graduate of one of the many customer service programs. Any one of a dozen customer service academies, training forums, or certification programs can teach you about the end game of customer service, that’s the easy part. But if it ignores the very basic premise of the employees needs, you’re wasting your time. The truly successful programs are those that not only target the customer’s needs, wants, and desires but also the protection and encouragement of the morale and stability of the employees.

How do I know this is true? Imagine, you have just graduated any one of the great Customer Service training seminars out there. You have your certificate in hand, your motivated after three days of exciting and motivating lectures, role playing, power-point presentations, and inspirational testimonials as to how great and successful your now going to be when you put this new strategy into play.

You come back to work, ready to put the customer’s needs first, develop your customer base, create a wonderful experience that you know is going to make your customers run home and call all their friends and start the word of mouth campaign that you know will come back to you in forms of letters of commendations, bonuses, bigger tips, promotions, recognition from upper management, and your face on the wall as “Employee of Awesome.”

When you show up to work on that first day after the training and you’re immediately told by your superiors and peers “yeah, everyone comes back from these all full of ideas and ready to change the world, but welcome back to reality, this is how it is and will always be. Don’t rock the boat.” How many times have you had this happen to you?

Let’s say that did not happen, in fact let’s say that you returned to cheers and a parade. Everyone is looking at you for all the answers, your now the expert and will be the savior for their customer service program. This sounds perfect, but as you’re ready to begin trying to implement all that you have learned, a co-worker or boss crosses the line of professionalism. Instead of embracing your new found ideas and philosophy, they see you as a threat to their job. So instead of accepting your help, they sabotage it. Do you believe this type of childish playground attitude can actually happen in a professional working environment? If you answer no, you must be self-employed, because it does and way too often especially among those managers and supervisors who attained their position by means other than honestly earning it.

Insecure and unprofessional Managers, Supervisors and co-workers look at “change” as a risk to their job security. They look at this opportunity to learn and do their duties in a more proficient way as a threat and as human nature teaches us when we are threatened, we fight or flight. But these individuals lack the vertebrae to do it honorably, so they launch covert and subversive attacks against you, eventually creating a very hostile work environment.

At one of my past employers, I was promoted to the position as Assistant General Manager and tasked with developing and implementing a training program for our 100 employees to focus on developing and in some cases establishing:

(1) Correcting employee paperwork and revenue errors
(2) Increase customer service
(3) Develop leadership and supervisor skills for the supervisors
(4) Conflict resolution skills for not just employee to customer, but within the workplace

How did I do this? First of all, this company had no type of structured training for its employees. No New Hire Orientation, nothing. Being a contract company, there was nothing in the budget to bring in an expensive company who would spend weeks asking questions and coming up with solutions to obvious problems. I am not saying outside training companies don’t have their place and need, but when the problem is as obvious as the nose on your face. The solution is even more evident and if it’s not, you either need to hire new managers or step back, swallow your pride, and begin to listen to what your employees have probably been telling you all along.

As a company/business, you understand your customer service needs. You also understand your employees. If you don’t, this is what Human Resources professionals should be helping your staffs develop and focus on. The money and time you invest into developing, implementing, and encouraging an overall Customer Service program, will always come back as the best investment ever made. There are lists of companies who have shining examples of it.

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