Five ways to use a customer-service mindset to enhance your work relationships

In Client Engagement

By Maura Fay Learning

Customer service is a well-known and widely-trained skill, and a crucial competency for successfully meeting the needs and expectations of the new consumer. Organisations recognise the need for exceptional customer service and spend time, money and energy in providing customer service training. Experience has shown that training the customer-facing staff alone is no magic cure. A customer-service approach to all interactions in an organisation is an influential foundation that supports successful customer service at the front-line.

The distinction is becoming blurred between ‘customer-facing’ and ‘non-customer-facing’ staff. In most organisations, customer-facing staff is really the final link of a multi-stage ’supply-chain’ to bring a product or service to the customer. The rest of the organisation have a role somewhere earlier in that supply-chain.

Each stage in that supply-chain is dependent on the previous link to supply their part so that the next link can be completed.

Each stage is a customer of the previous stage. Often staff at the frontline are keenly aware of this chain, while those in the back-room don’t realise their impact or part in the process. IT or payroll for example, have a role in the supply-chain by keeping the organisation operating but may not consider themselves as having ‘customers’.

Who is the customer?

Service delivery is happening at every stage, although not always recognised as such. It can involve delivery to colleagues, to managers, to people you supervise or to internal stakeholders. These inter-dependencies could be as frequent as daily or hourly, while others are only noticed when there’s a problem (such as the IT helpdesk).

Many internal customer relationships are two-way, where each is a customer of the other. Take for example a manager and a team member: the team member is a customer for the manager’s instruction, coaching, feedback or information, and the manager is a customer for the team member’s work output and reporting.

Five Fundamental Customer Service Principles

Viewing our colleagues as internal customers enables us to apply some fundamental customer-service principles to enhance workplace relationships.

1. Get a clear understanding of the customer’s wants and needs

Listen to understand, question, focus properly when people are communicating with you: by email, in a meeting, or face to face. Effective communication takes work, and both the sender and the receiver need to put in effort to avoid misunderstanding and annoyance.

2. The customer is always right

OK, not exactly true. But if we’re dealing with an external customer, we work to use language and behaviours that avoid concentrating on blame, and look to create solutions instead. That solution-focus can be a powerful tool in resolving workplace challenges rather than spending your energy exposing the culprit. If your focus is on finding culprits instead of finding solutions, then consider how a customer service approach could change that mindset.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The more that customers know what’s going on, the more satisfied they are with your service. Internal customers are the same. Keep them in the loop. If they are waiting for something, if you can’t meet that deadline, if there’s a problem with supplying that report, if you still don’t know the answer, going to ground not only delays the conversation – it can inflame it. Being proactive – communicating what’s going on, will actually lessen the impact of any problem.

4. Customers have more power than you might think

Internal customers often can’t vote with their feet and go to a competitor. They can, however, vote with their mouth. Work relationships can sweeten or sour easily, through paying attention or through neglect. The people who are most customer-service focussed, who don’t mind assisting a colleague, who see a benefit of the organisation to be an indirect benefit to themselves, are the ones who keep and enhance their career.

5. A customer is not an interruption to our ‘real’ work

Although it’s frustrating to be distracted, especially when we’re in the ‘zone’, consider whether your own KPIs always take priority over the best outcomes for your business or organisation? Are you a singles competitor or part of a team? If you are asked to help somebody for 10 minutes and save them three hours, don’t jump straight to the answer ‘no’. Consider whether the business, the team will be better off because you gave exceptional service to an internal customer.

Many organisations have clear benchmarks, guidelines, customer service charters and even brand promises for their external customers. They monitor progress against those benchmarks through surveys, sales, compliments and complaints.

If organisations create a culture that values and monitors a customer-service approach to colleague relationships, they will experience a flow-on effect into the service delivery levels for external customers.

If individuals provide exceptional customer service to all of their customers, it can result in increased job satisfaction, team productivity, career progression for the individual and better customer relationships for the business or organisation and its customers.

by Lisa Harrison

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