So who are your customers, really? As leaders, whatever the business we are in, we are all aware - or should be - of the importance of customer service to the success of the business. Not only does the way your individual customer receive the service impact on their desire to do business with you again but the very nature of customer service is such that it is critical to your business success.
We can talk about process control, we can implement lean manufacturing and develop strategic plans for re-engineering our core activities but without continuous vigilance in our customer service delivery our ongoing improvements in profit - and long term prosperity – will not be aligned to the best possible outcomes. It has long been an accepted tenet of business that we need to look after the customers and that the better you look after them,the more they will want to do business with you.
Many organisations have recognised the value of this by establishing a team to specifically look after this function. Of course, it’s called the Customer Service Department and it’s here - hopefully - that businesses equip people with specific customer-focused skills and then importantly follow-up with ongoing training and support.
This is Level 1 - or frontline - Customer Service and business managers these days generally would like to think their companies operate well in this area. However, with around 80% of customers not happy with the level of service they receive, there is a significant mismatch here.
The power which is able to be delivered through superior Customer Service should demand that every person working in the organisation - not just a specialised few - fully understands the skills required. The implications for the productivity and profitability of any organization are such that everyone - from the CEO through all levels and all departments - should be given personal accountability for delivery of the organisation’s high level of Customer Service.
Now we've moved to Level 2 Customer Service.
For organisations operating at Level 2, everyone is committed to delivering high value customer service to the customer. It is not just lip-service, it is actively incorporated as a customer-focus both at a strategic and an operational level, every day and in all aspects of the business where there is a customer interface.
When this is firmly in place, profits increase and your business will grow. Put simply, happy customers are good for business.
But what about taking this to the next level? Level 3 Customer Service exists where there is a culture of Organisational Customer Service.
Some years ago organisational analysts identified two types of customers which businesses have:
- the external customer and
- the internal customer.
The identification of the internal customer tag tends to imply a relationship of operational co-dependence. For instance, the HR department could regard the staff as their ‘customers’, the warehouse could see the sales department as their ‘customers’, the design team positioning the marketing department as their ‘customers’. While co-dependent relationships are important, more important are the matrixes which should connect all staff who make up an organisation.
By adopting the term ‘internal customer’, organisations are at risk of building walls rather than productive links and links which are capable of building success for the organisation.
In organisations where there is Level 3 Customer Service culture, all staff operate on a simple yet powerful philosophy and that is “Everyone is my customer”.
This means that the CEO is the customer of the General Manager – and that is a relationship which is easily accepted in businesses in a ‘customer service’ context.
It also means that the CEO adopts an attitude that the General Manager is his customer, also. The PA and even the accounts payable clerk is the customer of the CEO - and vice versa.
When we treat the people who work in our businesses as our customers, positive change in attitude is reflected in many ways. The working environment becomes a happier place, stress levels will decrease significantly, staff turnover will decrease, productivity will increase and all of these benefits lead to greater buy-in to business outcomes by the staff.
Just as happier customers are good for business in Level 2, happier staff have a significant effect on business success.
If organisations are to gain the benefits of Level 3 Customer Service, a cultural shift is required. As with most cultural change, people will not embrace the changes unless they have a connection with the benefits of the change.
The key to operating at this level is ‘attitude’. Attitudes will change - and will change readily- when people see the advantages of the new approach.
- Importantly, for change to happen, the expected behaviour must be modeled from the top.
Here are three tips for building a culture of organisational customer service:
ð Actively acknowledge and value individual staff
ð Actively listen to the needs of individuals
ð Look for opportunities to treat your customers (yes, your staff) in ways that exceeds their expectations
When all people in the organisation have the attitude that ‘everyone is my customer’, performance levels will change and the results can easily be measured. (through customer and staff surveys and similar measurement tools.) For organisations working at Level 3, staff will not make the distinction between the delivery of service for the external customer or customers within the organisation.
Familiar? Yes, these are broadly the same principles that apply to all customers.
Do you treat everyone as your customer?