The Importance of Internal Customer Service

You’re committed to Customer Service with your team and yet things are still not going smoothly…

You’re doing things like investing funds in training, modeling for staff, and encouraging staff to always take care of the customer. And yet… the staff is getting burned out and frustrated, customers still call to complain, and the cycle goes on.

What is happening?

Let’s take a look at Internal Customer Service, which is the facet of providing exceptional customer service that is often missed.

How staff interacts with each other, support each other, and do their jobs in ways that make others jobs go smoothly, is vital to the whole customer service cycle.

Here is a definition I really liked, from Micah Solomon in his Forbes.com article:

Internal customer service is when we provide customer service to the people we work with, helping them to do their best to serve external customers and promote the interests of our company.

woman working girl sitting

Let me walk you through some things to consider:

A staff person working at the front desk of a recreation office works hard to provide excellent customer service to a repeat customer who can be difficult, asks for extras, and has had complaints in the past. They carefully take down the rental request details – let’s say it’s for a picnic pavilion – noting for co-workers on the crew at that park all the important details this customer has outlined.

When the parks crew leader gets the information via electronic form, they are instantly irritated by the list of special requests and extra details that were promised to this customer, partly because the front desk staff doesn’t want to “be the bad guy” and say no. The policy states no extra customized set up – you take the pavilion as you find it – so the parks crew is very aware that their co-workers are making extra work for them and setting the customer up for complaints if they refuse to do it.

The customer, happily walking away after making the reservation, will either be:

    1. a) very unhappy when she arrives at the pavilion and finds it not set up to her specifications and yell at the first parks crew member she can find – and/or call the front desk the next day, or
    2. b) be extremely pleased to see her requests were fulfilled and return with even more special requests next time.

The parks crew leader is going to have a few choice words to say to the person in the front office, and there is now a cycle of conflict where co-workers cannot rely on each other, trust each other to do what’s best for all, or generally work together. The front office cannot call and say “hey, I need a really special favor this time” because there is no cohesive feeling or emotional capital in the bank.

Some other examples:

        • Someone uses the last pool pass form and doesn’t copy more
        • Someone leaves a mess in the staff lounge and doesn’t clean it up
        • Someone doesn’t put the kayaks away properly, making extra work for the next day’s crew

Another way of looking at Internal Customer Service: Working with a team of IT staff, we asked them to define their jobs. Since they knew they were sitting in customer service training, their answers very carefully included “the customer.”

        • Keep the website up-to-date and running so the customer can get information
        • Maintain the database and registration system so the customer can register for programs and passes
        • Monitor and maintain the wireless internet system so customers can have Wi-Fi during meetings and activities

Great! Yes… and, what if we ask these folks to re-word their job definitions based on their work with their co-workers?

      • Keep the website up-to-date and running so fellow staff members can access information and assist customers
      • Maintain the database and registration system so staff can efficiently do their jobs and provide excellent service to customers
      • Monitor and maintain the wireless internet system so staff do not have to troubleshoot and try to fix at the last minute when it goes down during a customer’s activity

Other examples might include:

      • Set up the projector and laptop system in the conference room so the Director can smoothly and professionally make the budget presentation to elected officials
      • Have an efficient system to onboard new staff members with email addresses and system access so new hire employees can be trained and welcomed smoothly

The bottom line is this: we need to treat our co-workers with the same respect, courtesy, kindness, promptness, and thoughtfulness that we provide to customers outside our organization.

When you call a boating outfitter, you expect to have a pleasant phone greeting, a variety of options, and a helpful person to guide you through getting the equipment you need. When you call your own boathouse at the park you work for, do you get the same thing?

This is a much more challenging training situation and requires open conversation, time for team bonding within the staff, training and communication about civility expectations, and consequences if new internal customer service protocols are not respected.

It is well worth the time invested to work through this with your team!

Author: Molly A. Hetrick

Hello, I am Molly. I am currently the Manager of Philanthropy at a public library after working for 17 years in the recreation field as a Naturalist and Supervisor. I also offering training on Customer Service, Civility, and Fundraising in Recreation through my consulting business, Training With Molly. I have been training and consulting for 9 years and I love to help people learn and grow.

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