“Charity begins at home” is a thread-bare expression. In the world of service excellence, however, this cliché still has its place. The best place to begin the quest for excellent customer service is right inside the organisation. The bane of most service improvement initiatives is that they are too externally oriented. In such situations, employees begin to think mainly in terms of the external customer.
Nothing is really wrong with this kind of thinking, so long as employees equally appreciate the link between internal service and external service.
In the best customer-focused organisations, people within the organisation see one another as customers. The production people see the marketing people as their customers.
The marketing people see the field sales people as their customers. The purchasing people see the production people as their customers. People in the human resources department see everybody else as their customers and try to create a work environment that encourages optimum performance. Everybody in the organisation knows just how the performance of their job function facilitates or hinders that of someone else in service delivery. Everybody knows precisely how they contribute to customer satisfaction.
This is perhaps just one side of the coin. The other side has to do with the value the organisation places on its employees. In those organisations that truly regard people as their “greatest asset,” it is not unusual to see employees go beyond the call of duty to serve customers.
The reverse is equally true. Organisations that treat their employees like filth end up having their customers treated the same way.
The point is that if you treat your employees, there is no guarantee that they’ll treat your customers well – but you have a good chance of getting them to mirror you. But if you treat them badly, you can bet they will take it out on your customers!
It is up to you to create the kind of work environment that encourages excellent service. How do your team members relate to one another? Do they see one another as partners working toward the same goals? Or are there (suspicions of) hidden agenda? Do people talk to one another with respect or are they always hollering to have their way? The way people relate to their colleagues won’t be much different from the way they relate to their customers.
Beyond the relational aspects of service, there is the need to look at the internal systems, processes and structure. Is the organisation flat or bureaucratic? Is it easy to get things done – or are employees bogged down by layers upon layers of signatures and approvals? Are people empowered to use their initiative, make mistakes and learn? Or is the sword always dangling over those who err? Do employees have the necessary tools for their work? Are employees adequately rewarded? What does the company do to retain its best employees?
Just as it is important to retain your current customers, it is necessary to retain your good hands. Getting competent employees that fit your organisational culture is not generally easy. Even when you get good employees, it takes a lot of time to train them to meet the standards of excellence you’ll like to see. This whole idea of treating employees (internal customers) well, making them buy into the corporate vision and motivating them to render exceptional service has been aptly tagged “internal marketing” by services marketing scholars. Indeed, the best place to start marketing is in-house.