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 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!

The “We” in Fundraising

I was recently asked “What is the one piece of fundraising advice you would give me, if you could pick only one?”

And I answered “Stop using the word WE.”

Now, that takes a little bit of explanation, but I promise, it’s a game-changer.

Let’s explore this…

You sit down to write a fundraising letter or marketing materials… what do you want to tell your potential donors? About your successes, about your accomplishments and credentials, how you’re different than other groups, your mission, and your needs…

This translates on paper and gets sent to the donor, who – I promise you – skims rapidly through your letter. What they see in their skimming is this:WE image

“We have reached our goal of… we offer programs to… we exceeded our project with… we meet the needs of the community… we need your help to move to the next step.”

Now, put your donor hat on and re-read that. Where do I (the donor) fit into this, other than to pay the bill?

Donors often say that they feel like an ATM machine, only contacted when someone needs money. The WE where we talk about the importance of our work is leaving out the very person we hope will help us.

Ah…. That brings me to the next important point. Watch out for the “Us” as well.

Writers think “us” sounds inclusive and will make people feel like part of the group, but it rarely does.

You may wonder why I would write a whole blog post on this – but remember, its my #1 choice top advice to give about fundraising when asked. There is an identified psychological element to the wording used in fundraising messages and how the donor responds.

I recently got a post card that said “Please help us build our new Park!”

Again, think like the donor… an engaged citizen who cares about the community and the recreation agency, or has children who benefited from recreation programs, but is also a tax payer and very busy person with bills and a life etc.

“Please help us (the parks agency) build our (the park agency’s) new Park!”

This sounds a lot like “We need money and you should give it to us.” Or as I like to explain it “Please help us pay our bills”

Now, this is not just my opinion. I particularly am fascinated by the language used in fundraising, copy-writing, and the psychological connection. If you want to learn more, research Donor Centered Fundraising.

So, let’s wrap this up: What would work better, make the donor feel included and welcome, and bring in dollars?

Original: Help us build our new park!

Instead: Join us! Let’s build a new park!

Note that “us” in this example feels inclusive, us all together.

Original: “We need your help to build our new playground!

Note here that the writer means for the “our” to be inclusive, everyone will feel excited about our new park, but it does not come across that way. Instead it sounds like “help us pay our bills”.

Instead: A New Community Playground! Will you help?

Better yet, try to include the word “you”. You the donor are vital to the success of this community project, you the donor can join this cause and be special, you (donor) can be a hero to so many kids!

Now do you feel the energy?

You can enjoy the new expanded playground with your family (future feeling) or You can make a big difference (feel like the hero).

As you’re writing, put yourself in the donor’s shoes and think carefully about the we-us-you’s that you use in the writing. It can really make a big difference!

A New Perspective on Civility

Civility means different things to different people. So, when we start dialogues in our workplaces about civility or the lack there of, plus the expectations of civility and what that looks like, we have to consider how each of us approaches the topic in a different way.

For example, I was taught that nice little girls are polite no matter what. I spent a large part of my younger years giving a social answer or self-deprecating answer, always folding under in the face of a louder or more strident opinion. Don’t rock the boat; never take a chance on offending someone. INPE0576

Let’s say someone else has the idea “It’s okay for me to always speak my mind, and I don’t care who I offend, it’s my right to say what I think.”

It is upbringing, experience, personality, emotional capacity, moral compass, and more that effects our actions and decisions about what civility is…

In workshops, when we start a dialogue about what Civility “is,” the answers vary widely but seem to follow the theme of how others behave or how others treat us.

Comments about Civility include:

·  I hate when people let the door slam on you. People need to look behind them and hold the door for other people.

·  I want someone to respect that I have different beliefs, and not make comments about my choices.

·  I want him to agree to disagree, and try to maintain politeness with me in future interactions, and I will do the same.

·  When people interrupt me, especially in meetings, its rude and I’d like people to be aware of that and try not to interrupt.

·  I think we should all try to be kinder, and put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

The phrasing is interesting sometimes, in that people often talk about what others should do: “People should slow down and stop tailgating” or “people should stop talking so loudly on their cell phones…”

So, let’s try a different exercise. How are YOU going to be more civil? Because we only control ourselves, right? But we have the power to influence others.

So, let’s try this:

·  Today, I am going to be kind to people, even something small like a smile.

·  I’m going to be aware of the challenges others face and try to put myself in their shoes.

·  I’m going to say hello to everyone I pass on the street, no matter who it is.

·  I’m going to be aware of the mess I leave in the staff kitchen and work harder to clear it up.

·  I’m going to get to know Tom better, since he and I do not see eye to eye, so that we have a more common ground to operate from at work.

Now, THESE have a little more substance to them, they are action based, and they start with “me.” I can influence others, inspire others, affect others, but only control myself.

The next step of civility is to see how long it lasts. It’s human nature that I intend to smile and say hello to everyone I pass in the hallway at the office, until someone is mean to me and then — forget it! People are mean to me so I’m not going to be nice to them… it’s a lot harder to maintain the civility in the face of rudeness, thoughtlessness, and aggressive behavior.


Take that to a global scale, we see it play out in conflicts all over the country and the world.

So, maybe we can all take a few minutes to think about how we feel about civility. Is it the way I want or expect others to treat me? Is it the way I intend to treat others? And how do we – all of us – sustain it, no matter how another person behaves?

There is no magic answer and it’s not easy, but within our workplaces, it is important that we start conversations about civility, about mutual respect for all people (everyone gets the same hello as the CEO), and how we want our workplaces to feel. The actions then are not pointing fingers at others, but our own ownership for being part of the solution.

Customer Service Training and Trends

Does your staff groan and complain when you announce Customer Service training? Do they dread it, think they are already doing a great job, or just dislike sitting in training? Do we still need Customer Service Training?

Here’s the thing… Yes, your organization needs it. For all the reasons you already know, Live Chat Imageincluding improving your Customer Service or improving parts of it, but also because you need to keep up with changing trends, most of them driven by the online environment. The “customer” is changing in a Google and Amazon “on demand” world. You can get pet food delivered to your door almost instantly. Don’t think that people will wait days to hear back from you on their question about their pool pass.

And – for your staff – do it for them. Give them the tools they need to navigate the sometimes challenging path that includes unhappy customers. Help them not feel beat up at the end of a tough encounter, empower them with the tools they need to say “I can help you with that”, and help them be in control when policies and procedures need to be followed.

Here are some business trends you should know about with Customer Service. Some impact the Recreation sector as much as the business sector:

  • Chat: Use of instant chat is on the rise. What does that look like on the back end? When does a person take over from the auto-responses that get the conversation started? (I also wonder how many chats is that person juggling at once? And where in the world they actually are).
  • Artificial Intelligence: says that 80% of companies will use AI by 2020. That is just around the corner now, after using the statistic for a few years, so I wonder how that will hold up.
  • Social Media Service: This is a big one for Recreation. People have a question, first they Google it. If they cannot find it quickly, they click on Facebook or Twitter and they message either your organization or the universe at large. The Universe does not always provide an accurate answer while they are waiting for your answer. If your answer doesn’t come until four days later or after the weekend, you have a 35 message feed waiting for you to now navigate. But how realistic is it to have someone (the exhausted Director?) checking social media all weekend?
  • Google: People with a question go to Google first, and then they want a human. It’s that simple. The trends are showing less time and patience in seeking out the answer themselves.
  • Remote Customer Service: It’s much more likely now that your Customer Service agent is stateside rather than overseas, depending on the international level of the company you’re dealing with and very likely that person is working from home/remotely. So, within recreation, is there an opportunity to have a designated customer service team who is not actually on site?

Only you can know how busy your organization is and what level of customer service you need to start providing. But keeping an eye on the trends is important.

If you’re not sure where to start, start with social media. Be sure you are posting updates and precise easy to find information to prevent as much confusion as possible from the start. Consider a banner on your website for important things like pool closings, weather related info, holiday event updates, etc. Also, take a look at the back side of your website and what people are most navigating toward.

There is a word that pops up often in the Customer Service field: Customer-centric. That customer-centricity-icon-260nw-1062868253means your processes and navigations and available options need to be tailored for exactly what works best for your customer. The flip side is sometimes that it’s not always what is best or easiest for you and your staff.

This a great exercise during that staff training that you’ve been putting off having! Be aware of what is challenging or what customers are complaining about, what is the customer-centric solution, and then how can you actually make it work on the back end?

This is all important work that will pay off in the long run and it’s important to keep up with the rapidly changing times.

Civility in the workplace

Ever meet someone that you wish you could pull aside and have a little chat with them about their civility or lack thereof?

If they are on your staff, the good news is – you can. And you should…

Let me clarify… in our workplaces, we train on computer skills, how to balance the cash drawer, how to add proper pool chemicals, how to take a summer camp registration at the front desk – but we very rarely train on the proper etiquette and expected behaviors for how staff treat other staff.

This beautiful concept goes hand in hand with how we (our team) then treat the customers.

So, when I get a request for customer service training, I always first suggest we take a look at the civility expectations and training that staff receive.

If you work for a municipal entity, they sometimes have “Codes of Conduct.” This is often a  “gem” of a document (excuse the implied sarcasm) that includes a harsh list of “Do Not” statements, such as “Employees will refrain from using harsh language” or “Do not disturb, annoy, or interfere with any other person.”

Instead, what if employees come together to talk about the impact that lack of civility in the workplace has on them (step 1) and discuss the standards for behavior that are appropriate and reasonable for their workplace (step 2). Then, by sharing these, employees at all levels are aware and part of this culture. It also becomes easier to welcome new staff into the culture as well. Then, we extend these standards on to our users and patrons.

How does incivility impact the workplace? Big ways, like two employees squabbling or INPE0814name calling or worse. But small ways: tiny jabs at one another, gossip that undermines the moral of all or deeply hurts an employee, employees who quit unexpectedly and you do not learn until later why, staff who call in sick to avoid confrontational situations, loss of productivity related to workplace influences. And so many more…

Another key perk to this process is that bullies or aggressive staff or “hey, I was only kidding, can’t you take a joke” jokers start to feel uncomfortable in the new civil workplace and will begin to be managed by the influence and feedback (even non-verbal social cues) of their peers.

For those that are not, Managers now have a way to discipline and council troublemakers. Sometimes it’s a “hey, can we talk about the last staff meeting? Your comment to Donna putting down her work on the event is not the kind of tone we like to set around here.” on to a full counseling session about language, harassment, or bullying.

Here are some interesting statistics:

  • In 2011, 50% of employees surveyed said they are treated rudely at least once a week at work. (In 1998, it was 25%) I’m anxiously awaiting updated numbers because I bet it’s even higher in 2018.
  • Out of 800 managers and employees surveyed in 17 industries:
    • 48% of employees intentionally decreased their work efforts due to incivility
    • 47% intentionally decreased their time spent at work
    • 80% lost work time worrying about an incident
    • 66% said their work declined
    • 25% admitted taking their frustrations out on a customer
      • From C. Pearson and C. Porath research

It’s time to make training and conversations and workplace civility a priority, regardless of what sector you’re in. I strongly encourage you to hire a consultant or trainer to help you with this, because sometimes employees receive the message better from an outsider versus their management. Look for someone who can be frank and candid but includes humor – Civility training can be fun!

However you approach this, educating yourself and the management of your workplace about the impacts of incivility and the importance of creating a civil workplace is an important first step, then move to a process that allows staff to be heard and be part of creating their own culture. You’ll see wonderful results!



Hidden keys to fundraising

What do Recreation professionals lose sleep over?INPE0863

One of the top reasons is “fundraising”…

The things that run through our heads are: “where is the money going to come from?”, “how can I raise $40,000 more than last year”, “why don’t the elected officials realize how unrealistic this is?” or even “how will I fit it in?”

Suppose you find the time and put a great deal of effort into fundraising, but the results are still not as you hoped or need them to be. What’s going on?

There are two places to look: Evaluate your customer service and evaluate your public relations.

Let’s look at each one:

Customer Service: Spend time in your own facilities observing both how your staff interacts with the customers, and how the customers react or behave in return. Look closely at your facilities – the cleanliness, the efficiency, the clarity of your signs, etc. Is it a pleasurable and memorable experience to be in your facilities? Do the staff know the names of repeat customers and have the materials and information they need to provide excellent service?

Wait – are we talking about Customer Service or Fundraising? BOTH.

The perceived service a customer experiences when they interact with your department is directly related to their interest and willingness to further support your fundraising efforts.

Use every opportunity of customer complaint to address concerns and questions as a way to explain the underlying need for the fundraising you do. For example, a customer is complaining about the high cost of a dance class or boating lessons. Take a moment to educate them, in a positive way, about the overall costs, what their fee covers and how funds raised from the community supplement tax dollars.

Most importantly – begin to clarify for people that tax dollars cover the basics and keep the lights on, fundraising covers the rest. If you are a tax based agency that is now also expected to fundraise, as many of you are, it’s even trickier to surmount this. (If you are not a tax-based agency, this technique still works to explain the difference between the basics and doing more.)

Overall, providing excellent service and experiences directly impacts future fundraising.

Public Relations: Now, look at your Public Relations and your department’s public image. If you are known for mistakes on your webpage, mis-information published in your program guide, mix ups with refunds, and late cancellations of programs, the public feeling about your department is going to impact their giving when you ask. (By the way, are you asking? That will be a future blog post, perhaps…)

If you’ve had bad press over park issues or zoning changes impacted the neighbors, if there was an accident at a pool that the local newspaper spun into a media crisis, you have work to do before you fundraise.

How can you address this? Promote strongly as many positives as you can. Share happy faces at summer camp, happy customers at the pool, and racing puppies at the dog park. Gather and promote customer quotes about service and commitment. Coordinate positive news stories with local media outlets. Post videos on your social media and enlist trusted patrons to do so also. Send your Director out into the community, like the mayor, to get to know the public. Do anything you can to promote a better image.

All of this is more important than fundraising if you have a negative public image. If you’re not sure, ask a few people outside your organization that you trust and start there.

Later, when you outline the case for why your department needs support, the public – made up of happy customers who have a positive view of your department as a vital part of the community – are more likely to give.

If you’re trying to fundraise and the results are not as you hope, take a different view and start strengthening relationships first.

The flip side of customer service

Service can go both ways

ingg0495Recently while teaching a customer service training session, things took an interesting and unexpected turn.

I was working with a room of about 60 people and going through Customer Service best practices with the “best-of-the-best.” They were selected for the special honor of additional customer service training because they already showed initiative.

We started the presentation… basics about greeting every customer, making them feel welcome. Letting each person know that they have been seen and are being heard. Taking the time to really listen to the customer’s needs and show compassion and care with their experience.

Pause for a moment and picture yourself as the customer… doesn’t this sound like what you wish for yourself? You walk into a beautiful brightly lit recreation center to buy your child a pool pass, or to attend gymnastics class and the staff greets you warmly…

Now, pretend you are the Recreation Director and you walk through the building and watch these wonderful interactions taking place with satisfied happy customers.

Ah… THIS is what customer service is all about.

(INSERT screeching halt sound)

Back to reality, in the middle of my beautiful presentation about customer service a young woman raises her hand and says “What if we don’t care?”

The earth stood still while I pondered this question. Me (stunned and not articulate): “Um… you don’t care?”

“Yeah! These customers come in, they are loud and rude and they never get off their phones. They demand all kinds of special treatment that is not part of what we can offer, let their kids climb all over and then yell at US when we enforce the rules.”

And from there, the flood gates opened and filled the room with the descriptions of the terrible actions, the rude treatment and downright utter disrespect these customer service recreation staff members have to deal with on a daily basis.

Now, as supervisors, we know this. We all deal with difficult customers, we groan when someone pushes their way through and demands extra perks, we wrestle with ourselves when we give in to the squeaky wheel. We vow to support our staff and take their side, but sometimes sides are complicated.

We all know about burn out. We have all experienced it. And one way to deal with burn out is to support each other and give the staff the tools they need to really handle customers in a savvy way.

But this particular day, I found myself wondering, how do we train the customers? Can we somehow train our customers to treat our staff better, after years of training our staff to treat customers better? As customers ourselves, do we need some additional training?

This is a deeply complex issue… we are all customers, and if you’re reading this it’s likely that you also serve customers in your job, recreation or otherwise. And you may also supervise staff.

So what now?

I’m not writing this blog post because I have all the answers… actually, I’ll share two of the ideas I’ve come up with, but as an industry we need to address this further.

#1-Provide our staff with scripts to guide and influence the behavior of the customers. Many of the transactions we complete each day are the same, so your staff has an intuition about when that interaction is getting ready to veer off into murky territory. So, lets train on that. When your brain says “Uh-oh, here we go, Mrs. Smith is getting ready to ask for special perks that are not part of the package she is buying” then we know to insert in our next sentence information with details about the packages and options. Sometimes you have to say “I do understand, Mrs. Smith, and you can have those extra perks in this other package but there are additional costs as well.”

#2- Civility standards: one of my favorite topics to teach and talk about is Civility. We create civility standards and protocol policies for our staff so they work more smoothly together, but we often neglect the step of inviting our customers to be part of that culture. Can your code of ethics be shared and extended to include customers? Yes… Let’s make it part of the conversation. Can you ask an unruly customer to leave the building, lower their voice, or refrain from profane language? Yes, and it’s even better if you’re doing it with the User Behavior Policy behind you.

Let’s introduce customers to the idea that the service experience goes both ways. Its bold new territory…