I recently received an email and in the signature line it said, “Customer service is not a department…it’s an attitude.” Wow…somebody gets it! Being the educator that I am, here is Lesson One of “Customer Service 101.” What is customer service? By definition, it is simply meeting the customers’ expectations. Customer care, on the other hand, is the process of creating positive impressions on a consistent basis that exceeds a customer’s expectations. Every interaction, no matter how big or how small you have with a customer, affects the customer’s experience. As in any lasting relationship, you must earn the trust of your customers with integrity and instill confidence in them that you possess the competency to deliver successful solutions.
In order to deliver exceptional customer service that exceeds expectations, you must start by creating a mindset that your customer is your number one priority. No doubt having a positive attitude, expressing a warm and friendly smile and saying “thank you” at the end of the service transaction is important, but customer service is far more than friendly mannerisms.
Businesses must take an inside-out approach to customer service, meaning customer service begins internally. Perception is reality; therefore, how customers perceive your business is determined through their interaction with your employees. In other words, your employees are your best customers. When management recognizes through consistent actions, rewards, recognition and sincere appreciation the value of each employee’s contribution to the success of the company, then exceptional external customer service is a natural result! Having sat through hours upon hours of behavioral science classes, I know scientists have proven over and over again that behavior that is rewarded will continue to repeat itself. Internal customer service is the service we provide fellow employees and other departments within our own organization, as well as suppliers and anyone else who helps us get our job done. It’s what we do when a colleague asks for information he/she needs to complete a task.
Exceptional customer service involves everyone working together as a team. Nobody can provide this kind of service alone. A key to exceptional internal customer service, as stated earlier, is trust. How much do employees trust management? How much does management trust their employees? And how much do employees trust each other? Trust is about depending on and counting on the people around you to help provide exceptional customer service. Imagine, if you will, that you and your team, the people you count on, are members of a water ski show and you are about to build a pyramid, and YOU are the one climbing on top. If your team is not performing at their best and there are no safety nets, what happens if you can’t depend on them? What happens to you? More than likely you will fall and break your neck or the whole team will crash and sink.
In order to better serve the internal customer:
1. Begin with your own perspective. Regard fellow employees and other departments as your customers. Understand that helping your colleagues do their jobs more successfully helps your organization and you.
2. View interruptions not as nuisances, but as opportunities to serve your internal customers. If you tend to view every interruption as a pothole in your road to success, reexamine those interruptions. If someone interrupts you to share gossip, that’s a pothole. If someone interrupts you to ask for help, that’s a necessary lane change that will get your company closer to its destination. Take pride in helping your colleagues; enjoy your role in sharing information and providing services that help others get their jobs done. In most cases, your willingness to help others get their jobs done will lead them to readily assist you when you need it.
3. Exceed your internal customers’ expectations. When someone exceeds your expectations, how do you feel? Most people feel delighted, excited, upbeat and very positive about that person and his or her organization. Think what you can accomplish in your organization by exceeding the expectations of fellow employees.
4. Say “Thank you.” A simple, genuine “thank you” goes much farther to create an atmosphere of sharing and helping than two such small words would suggest. Even when it is a person’s job to provide information or a product to you, tell them “thank you” when they have done it. Express your appreciation of their timeliness in providing it. Explain how it has made your job much easier. And show them your delight when they exceed your expectations.
A former business owner herself and graduate of the Urban Hope Entrepreneur program out of Green Bay, Michelle Madl is currently the business development coordinator for Nicolet Area Technical College, where she assists and coaches new and existing entrepreneurs and small business owners with business plan development, provides professional development workshops throughout the area and coordinates and teaches Nicolet College’s eSeed Entrepreneur Program. She holds a baccalaureate degree from Mount Mary College in behavioral science and a master’s in management and organizational behavior from Silver Lake College. Madl is also the current president of the Northwoods Entrepreneurs Club and Northwoods Women in Business, and sits on the state advisory board for the Small Business Development Centers. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (715) 365-4492.