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!

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Advancing Workforce Diversity

 

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has developed a position statement on Social Equity.  

https://www.nrpa.org/our-work/Three-Pillars/social-equity-and-parks-and-recreation/ – .XUBNsrSXcM8.link

Communities are becoming increasingly diverse.  Does your workforce reflect that diversity?  Park and Recreation organizations regularly grapple with this concept.  Still, others are oblivious.  What challenges do you face in your agency or organization for promoting a diverse workforce?    

 When this question was posed to Park and Recreation professionals; respondents cited numerous challenges.  

Current hiring practices are restrictive or are subject to political interference.

There is no identified pipeline to recruit persons of color or people with disabilities for Parks & Recreation jobs.

There were no diverse applicants.

Pay scales cannot compete with fast food restaurants.

Park and Recreation staff expressed frustration and a desire for support and training in recruitment techniques.  On the surface, these are valid excuses.  However, solutions require a strong commitment, research into best practices, analysis and critical thinking. 

When inquiring about recruitment practices that have yielded increased diversity in professional Park and Recreation agency workforces, few solutions or ideas were offered.  Therefore, we should think back to the basic techniques we employ to recruit program participants.  

Personal connections to the people we serve are integral to ensuring social equity.  While the topic of workforce diversity is broad; begin by focusing on part time and seasonal employees.  Seasonal employees are generally older teens and young adults.  Often, they decide to pursue post-secondary education to become Park and Recreation professionals.  Building a diverse workforce is a process that develops over time. 

Helen Ubinas, columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer recently wrote an article featuring four lifeguards in Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.  Their deep commitment, knowledge of their communities and care for the neighborhood youth illustrates the value of hiring people from the neighborhoods.  

There is no quick solution to building a diverse and equitable workforce.  It is an intentional process.  The most important action you can take is to get out of the office and be present in your community and at the activities you offer. Reach out to your program participant families.  Talk to people.  Build relationships.  Creating awareness of seasonal jobs such as camp counselors and lifeguards is an important step.  Ask your teens and young adults if they have ever considered working for your agency. Mention it to their parents or guardians.  Sometimes, they need a little push.  Conversations with prospective staff can yield both perceived and actual obstacles to employment.   What trainings are needed?  Can you provide those trainings at little or no cost?  Winter is the time to think about hiring summer staff for your camps and pools.  Over time, these actions pay off.  Engagement will cultivate community investment. This investment in diversity and equity will significantly enhance your community and programs.    

When our staff reflects the families in our community…we are all richer for the experience.  

Park and Recreation professionals have a responsibility to recruit, train and hire staff that reflects the diversity in their communities.  The most important strategy is to engage with the people we serve.  Residents are a rich resource for feedback and ideas.  Over time, your investment will pay off.  

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.

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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: Forbes.com 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.

A Tangible Reminder

Remind Finger

A few years ago I decided to rip out our hallway restroom while my wife and son went away for the long Columbus Day weekend. The vanity and lighting were from the 70’s, the door and some of the vinyl flooring was chewed up from a puppy training experiment gone wrong, and everything was in a desperate need of an update. Now I consider myself “handy-ish”, but not an expert by any stretch. I spent the next four days demoing, picking out new finishes, paint colors, watching some Youtube tutorials on cutting angles for trim and wainscoting, and largely living in that 8 x 6 area like it was a cell from Shawshank Redemption. After my second 18 hour day, I was beginning to daydream about what else I could have done with all my “me time”. It mostly consisted of seeing how far into an NHL season I could get on my PS3, or how many hours of binge watching the latest peak TV series I’d relinquished in hopes of surprising my family.

By mid-day Monday of that Columbus Day weekend, the transformation was beginning to take shape and by the time my family arrived home later that evening, we had an entirely new bathroom. From the mirror and lighting to the sink and vanity to the flooring and wall treatment, everything was updated. Beyond surprising my family and seeing their smiles, I sat back and felt proud about the work I had put in. There was a visible transformation in front of me that I was responsible for.

I often think about projects such as this while I’m sitting behind a computer at work. I think about how tangible and immediate the satisfaction of that project was and how in our line of work that isn’t always the case. Now yes, there are special events, park and trail projects as well as new facility construction that scratch that visual satisfaction itch. Something as simple as a clean pool or a freshly cut athletic field can give me that feeling too. What I’m referring to is the day to day administrative grind of reviewing budget numbers, facility bookings, programming, payroll, insurance and preparing report after report after report. And yes, there are some that really enjoy a great spreadsheet or pie chart, and I can appreciate that as well (where my excel-heads at?!), but it never comes close to the satisfaction gained from a concrete accomplishment.

It was around this time that I found myself at one of our parks in the evening. It was such a different environment than the daytime crowd that we experience during business hours. It hummed with activity as tennis lessons and pick up-basketball created the rhythm section for the evening’s soundtrack. The athletic fields were in full swing, and friends chatted leisurely as they meandered around the walking trail. Children buzzed through the playground equipment with their imaginations in full overdrive. It. Was. Awesome! It was also a complete “duh” moment for me. THIS is the tangible outcome of the work we do!

Ever since that ah-ha moment, I’ve encouraged my staff to make sure they get out and experience the many accomplishments of all their time and energy. It can be as simple as popping into a program, or taking a day trip, or just going for a walk through a park or trail. The faces of the many individuals and families enjoying the work you’ve put in and seeing these wonderful facilities in use has been a much needed reminder of where to look for that visible, real time satisfaction. If you are like me, it’s all too easy to put in your eight (plus) hours staring at a screen, glued to a desk covered in papers. It is so vital to get out and experience the wheels you’ve help put in motion, born from the passion you’ve put into it, and to feel the pride that accompanies you when you sit back and take stock of your work. And if that doesn’t work, you can always renovate a bathroom.

The Subtle Art of Being Blunt

38886346 - portrait of a pretty businesswoman yelling over the megaphoneThere are many skills needed to navigate the workplace in today’s society. You know about hard skills like budgeting and writing and soft skills like customer service and teamwork, but have you ever thought of the skills that you are born with? Skills and personality traits that come naturally to some folks, but are surprisingly absent from others? You know charisma, creativity, common sense, etc.

I was lucky enough to be born with the subtle art of being blunt. I was also “lucky” enough to be born with “RBF”, but that’s a whole other story…

If you were not born with the ability to be blunt, it can be a very delicate and tricky art to master. But in many cases, it can be extremely helpful in the workplace, as well as in one’s personal life. Let me be clear, being direct by no means gives you the right to be rude or inappropriate, rather it is a tactful way of letting someone know how you feel or explaining a situation without sugar coating or giving a false impression. There should be a clear distinction!

In the workplace, it can be used as a power tool, from hiring and firing to managing expectations, and even during the most difficult customer service situations. If done correctly, being blunt can eliminate confusion, prevent any unnecessary expectations, and settle issues in a timely manner.

A few key things to remember when practicing your bluntness:

•   Always make sure you understand the situation you are dealing with. If you are wrong when being straightforward, you will sound like a jerk. There is no escaping it.
•   Be constructive and comment on the situation at hand, NEVER on an individual or group of individuals. Being blunt means being forthright in your opinion. Just because you are being honest and upfront doesn’t mean you have to give your complete opinion. If you can’t say anything nice… don’t say anything at all. Well, how about you just don’t say anything stupid?
•   Don’t yell or raise your voice. Depending on the situation, you may become heated. When being direct, remain calm or at least act that way and keep your voice at a mild tone.

Being blunt may upset people whether it comes naturally to you or if you are trying it for the first time. If you are someone who is worried about ruffling feathers or upsetting someone, being blunt may not be for you. And that is ok! The most important thing is to make sure you are clearly conveying your message, be it candid or subtle. Make sure the lines of communication are open and that both parties understand the situation.

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!