I was asked the other day by a very good chum why I write so often about "customer care." I replied that I thought the reason was obvious: It is the "Achilles heel" for most organizations, large and small. We spend so much money on winning customers, and so little on retaining them. But it is not just our external customers we should focus on.
Ask a colleague to define the customer and they will probably say 'Someone who buys from us.'
What about internal customers? Colleagues, other departments, branches, suppliers? They are equally as important and deserve to have their problems and complaints taken seriously.
External customers sense if there is a good working atmosphere, a coordinated approach to customer service, teamwork and high morale. It gives them confidence to stay with you.
Why is it that when customers blame us for something going wrong, we are quick to blame others - especially in large organizations?
'We passed the order to stores weeks ago; I don't know what they have done with it.' (You know very well it's still in your in-tray!)
Customers see through these feeble excuses and are not impressed!
Why do this?
• Stores are always making mistakes - attributing one more to them won't make any difference
• There's a particular person in Stores you don't like
• No one will find out whether they are to blame are not
• They have blamed your department often enough
• They always beat your staff at the annual bowling challenge
Two Way Process
Lack of communication between departments is often cited as the reason for poor working relationships. "They never tell us anything," is a frequent cry.
Communication is a two-way process. The most efficient of systems will not be effective if people don't read their messages, look at the notice boards, and log on to their computers, check their voice mail or pay attention at meetings.
Getting people to sign memos only provides proof of receipt, not of having read them. They need to want to know what's going on.
Low morale and a critical and suspicious environment will prompt employees to see customers as a nuisance and not the lifeblood of the business. Every employee needs to appreciate that they contribute to customer satisfaction even if they are working behind the scenes, e.g. maintenance, cleaning, refuse collection, etc. They deserve to be kept informed!
Some departments pride themselves on being the most efficient, the best organized, the most responsive, and expect others to live up their standards and follow their procedures. This can foster resentment and lead to a refusal to co-operate. Frustration and conflict can cause bad feeling and a desire to sabotage. This often happens when an organization has no clear vision or has not communicated one to the staff. Poor leadership, or managers with their own agendas, are other contributory factors.
Working in isolation, split site or satellite offices often result in an autonomous management with a workforce who want to do their 'own thing'.
This has a negative effect on customer satisfaction. Customers become the victims of internal politics. What's it got to do with them?
Another cause of internal conflict is insecurity: downsizing, management restructuring, fast-talking business consultants, threat of job loss, short term contracts, all might trigger a loss of pride in the job and a couldn't care less attitude. Customers become anxious and take their business elsewhere.
• Insecurity manifests itself in a number of behaviors:
• Gossip and back-stabbing
• Shifting blame
• Anger, depression
• Increase in absences due to stress
• Constant moaning and winging
• Negative thinking
In this environment it is likely that customer complaints will increase. It is essential to keep the customer at the center of everything you do, no matter what is going on behind the scenes. - Without customers you don't have a job!
Managers need to be very observant - early identification of problems is the key to a successful solution.
Look out for:
• Deadlines not met
• Increase in illness
• Poor quality work
• Ask questions in a confidential manner
• Reassure, calm fears
• Praise, encourage
• Don't blame or challenge
• Involve people
• Motivate, reward
Multi-Skilling & Interdepartmental Working
Conflict also arises through ignorance. Giving people the opportunity to learn about the work of others and equipping them with new skills, helps dispel fears, boost confidence and motivate. It also takes people out of their enclosed worlds of Accounts or the Post room and gives them the bigger picture.
Many complaints arise because staff feel they are expected to do a job without any training. Allowing them to attend courses out of the workplace is very beneficial. It gives them the opportunity to network with others, revitalize their ideas and acquire new skills. Hopefully they'll come back and think, 'It's not such a bad place after all'.
In any business, we are all customers of each other. Unless we get the internal customer service right, it won't extend naturally to external customers.
How can you do this?
• Have a positive attitude to your own work and that of your colleagues
• Help out when necessary
Remember you are all working to a common aim: Customer satisfaction.
And Finally - Team Building
It isn't necessary to take the workforce paint-balling in Sherwood Forest to 'bond', build trust or foster better working relationships.
Time away from the desk or shop floor to discuss issues in small groups, social evenings and interdepartmental activities can be just as effective.
Everyone needs to understand their own worth and value to the company.
Hence my equation: High self-esteem = reduction in conflict = better customer relations = more profitable business.
PS: Please pass this post on to your boss(es)