You need to get from average to awesome, but do you really know how to improve your customer service skills? Most companies don’t. And great customer service is not easy. If your customer service is floundering, you may need to make some big changes in your company. In fact, you may have to scrap your current service plan altogether and start over. Great customer service isn’t something a customer service department or a sales associate does all on their own. Great customer service permeates every aspect of your company and depends on every single employee, vendor, and leader, whether they interact with your customers or not.
You don’t need a customer service plan. You need a customer service culture, one that:
- Makes happy customers a priority above all else
- Supports and empowers your team to deliver that service
- Offers everyday examples of great internal service that members of your team can’t help but pass on to your customers
Believe it or not, your organization is composed of internal customers. You probably know them as Steve from Accounting, Julie in Sales, and Fred, the guy you call to fix the copier.
That’s right. Everyone who works in—or with—your company is a customer. This is known as internal customer service.
If this idea seems silly, don’t worry. Just know that treating every person you work with as a customer is the fundamental concept of quality customer interactions.
This one concept is the key to great customer service in any company. There are some great lists of more specific strategies, like this one and this one, but if you only employ these strategies with actual paying customers, your service will suffer. When you view everyone you work with as the recipient of your own personal brand of service, however, you set off a chain reaction of awesome service that will revive your whole organization.
Let’s say you’re Steve from accounting. You've been crunching numbers all morning for a report that's due today. You're focused. You're in the zone. Your phone rings, but you ignore it. They can leave a message. Craig walks in with a few checks for you to sign, but you'll get to those later. Your departmental meeting starts in five minutes, but you're almost done with this report and you don’t want to lose your momentum with all of these interruptions.
Sound familiar? We all get caught up in our work. Everyone on the team has their own job, and as long as every person does their own work, everything's good. But this mindset is damaging to internal customer service.
That phone call was Diane from shipping asking for approval to buy high-quality boxes so products arrive in perfect shape. Those checks Craig sat on your desk needed to go out to vendors by 2 p.m. so next week’s supply ships on time. And the first 10 minutes of the departmental meeting discussed new procedures for processing customer credit payments. But if you miss that discussion, the next couple of payments you handle won't make it through the system.
You're not a customer service rep, but you are part of the team, and your actions may indirectly result in a call to customer service. While your reps are on the frontline of defense, they’re rarely the cause of poor customer service.
Every single person in your company, and even your vendors, has the power to either boost or bottom out your customer service. What’s more, a narrow view of your service, in which you believe it starts and ends with your customer service reps, puts all the pressure on them to solve the problem. Your reps could spend days putting out customer service fires caused by Steve from accounting, who was just doing his job.
Customer service reps are the frontline when it comes to complaints, but if you rewind a bit, you can prevent those complaints from ever happening.
What if Steve looked at his job in another light? Instead of interruptions, what if he saw opportunities to step outside his “this is my job” bubble and help someone accomplish something on their plate? Instead of putting them off, what if Steve took a few minutes to sign those checks so Craig could get them out on time? Then, instead of hovering near Steve’s desk all day, Craig can continue his search for cheaper materials vendors, which benefits the company’s bottom line. Then the company can pass some of those savings on to customers.
Steve wins. Craig Wins. The customer wins. The company wins.
That’s a whole lot of winning. And all because Steve saw five minutes’ worth of interruptions as an opportunity to help.
So how do you get Steve on board?
Step 1: Create a Service Tree
Barbara Khozam, author of How Organizations Deliver BAD Customer Service (AND Strategies that Turn It Around!), recommends searching for problems in customer service by asking your customers how they feel, then going up the employee chain to see how far up the problem persists.
Essentially, customer service is a job of solving problems for customers. So what problem is Steve from accounting solving for Bob from marketing? And how can Diana from sales help Jim in IT? To track exactly how one department or employee serves their internal customers, you need to create a Service Tree.
A Service Tree is a document that shows the relationship of every position, team, and department in your company. When you make one for your company, focus on who’s responsible for what and be very specific. If Bob from marketing is responsible for monitoring and reporting any complaints the company receives on Facebook to Dave, the Head of Marketing, don’t just say Bob reports to Dave.
If your company has more than 20 employees, start with the responsibilities of each department. Bring in department heads and team leaders to discuss exactly how each of their staff will further those goals.
Step 2: Listen
According to a report by the New York-based nonprofit research group Conference Board, more than 50 percent of Americans are unhappy at work. Why is that?
Not every job is glamorous. You’d be hard-pressed to find a kid who wants to be a quality assurance technician or a customer service specialist when he grows up. But if you think the reason Diane in sales is unhappy is that she wanted to be an astronaut, think again. One reason for employee turnover is that employees feel like they don’t have the right tools to do their jobs. Chances are someone in your organization has the right tool, or the ability and authority to create it. To find out how to get the right tools to the right people, all you have to do is ask.
Companies send out customer service surveys to figure out how satisfied their customers are. If you’re going to adopt a customer service culture, you need feedback from your internal customers, too. Once you build your Service Tree, get input from the people on it. Find out whether they feel these demands are realistic and what they need from their tree-mates to get it done. When you’re finished building the tree, leave those lines of communication open so people can come back with changes and updates.
Step 3: Set the Bar
Find out how long it takes each department to deliver what the company needs to move forward, and allocate the hours necessary to exceed that. Be both realistic and transparent when setting the bar. That way, everyone knows what’s expected and there’s no confusion.
According to Chris Ward of MyCustomer, 32 percent of customer service agents said they lacked sufficient knowledge to solve customer issues, and 22 percent have experienced major problems because they had been given incorrect or conflicting information. Just imagine how much your internal and external customer service could improve if people knew exactly what their responsibilities were.
Step 4: Break Down Barriers
Close friendships at work boost employee satisfaction. But they can do even more: They create trust between employees that makes providing great customer service easy.
If your employees aren’t used to treating their coworkers as clients, you may initially get some push-back. It can be difficult for a person to accept additional responsibilities. To make your transition to great customer service go more smoothly, provide plenty of opportunities for employees to be more social. Plan company mixers, create team-building events, and add a social element to communications such as company newsletters, internal social media groups, or bulletin boards.
Improving your company’s culture is worth the effort. Taking the time to create a company-wide customer service culture means that each and every employee will be more engaged, and that means:
- Higher productivity: Happy employees are 12 percent more productive.
- Lower turnover rates:
- Entry-level employees cost from 30 to 50 percent of their annual salary to replace.
- Mid-level employees cost even more—around 150 percent.
- To replace high-level or highly specialized employees, it’s around 400 percent.
- Greater customer loyalty: Higher employee engagement results in twice as much customer loyalty.
- Your bottom line: Finding new customers is five to 25 times more expensive than retaining current ones.
Getting every employee on board with a customer service culture and concept of internal customers may take some time. However, once you integrate this concept into your company culture, you’ll improve not only your customer service, but everything from productivity to employee satisfaction, as well as your bottom line.