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Opinions of Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Columnist: Daniel Adjei

Customers always think ‘we are right’

No matter what kind of business you’re in, you’re doing business with other humans. Humans have good days, bad days and all sorts of days in between.

So how do you go about providing the best possible customer service across every kind of day and every possible situation?

One thing is certain: If you’re a business owner who has to be right all the time, you’ll be missing out on some serious opportunities for improving your brand according to Erika Napoletano.

"The customer is always right" is a slogan that exhorts service staff to give a high priority to customer satisfaction. It was popularised by pioneering and successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge. They advocated that customer complaints should be treated seriously so that customers do not feel cheated or deceived.

For the customer to feel not cheated or deceived the first person to be considered is not the customer but the staff which is the philosophy of Richard Branson. He stated it in this way “if you can put staff first, your customer second and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and yourself are happy.”

It sort of should go without saying -- and it's surprising that it still doesn't go without saying at some companies -- if the person who works at your company is 100% proud of the job they are doing, if you give them the tools to do a good job, they are proud of the brand, if they were looked after, if they are treated well, then they are going to be smiling, they are going to be happy and therefore the customer will have a nice experience. If the person who is working for your company is not given the right tools, is not looked after, is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile and therefore the customer will be treated in a way where often they won't want to come back for more.

Laura Ganda put it best by stating that it does not help to ignore the internal customer; management and other employees who do not necessarily deal with the external customer directly, it is true 'charity begins at home'.

While internal customers may not necessarily bring the paycheck, or purchase the products or services offered by their employer, they play a reciprocal role in delivering relevant information to the front office for good customer service. Strained internal relationships can also adversely affect company morale, hinder communication processes and generally good internal customer service is good business.

For the external customer to receive good service, and not take their business somewhere else, all departments must work together, cooperate, agree on processes and procedures and create a positive environment with high communication standards.

When you operate in departmental silos it means that the customer service your audience receives will be mediocre as interdependent business units are not working together. It creates less productivity as departments fail to meet each other’s needs and not adequately provide accurate information to satisfy the customer. What it means is, no matter how much customer service training the front office gets, if internal customer service is not understood by the organisation, then training is for nothing.

The absence of internal customer service means there is an increased possibility of delivering poor service and the business units fail to work towards a common goal, which compromises the organisation's ability to satisfy the customer. With an understanding of internal customer service, the benefits will extend to the customer as it promotes productivity, better communication for information dissemination, promotes maximum cooperation and aligns organisational goals.

Good internal customer service creates an environment of sharing and it becomes easier for employees to expand their service.

The mentality that I am only employed in sales, my job is just to sell, and not even answer the phone at the reception because it not part of their job description is dealt with when good internal customer service becomes a culture. Customer service is not only about giving customers what you can give them under your job description but also giving them something outside your area of responsibility. Know that your fellow workmates are your customers that enable you to deliver good customer service for customer satisfaction.

Internal customer service is an important link in the customer service chain. “Customer service is not somewhere in a department in an organisation, but it’s a company culture in which every individual at every level is customer oriented’’ stated by Karen Leland and Keith Bailey. It is without a doubt that Internal Customer Service is the foundation for two fundamental principles in marketing that deal with the employee: Internal Marketing, and new a phenomena that is growing, Internal Branding.

“The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.” Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group.

Many organisations forget that the way they treat their own personnel and the way colleagues interact has a profound effect on the way the organisation is perceived externally.

There is a common thread that the most successful and best performing businesses have and that is a happy, motivated and engaged workforce. Forget the saying ‘Charity starts at home’ and apply the statement ‘Customer service starts at home’ and you have a mantra for business success.

One of the many issues that plague organisations is that leadership doesn’t truly listen to their people. Companies are generally good at listening to customers, but when it comes to their own people on the front lines, the tendency is to become a little tone-deaf and out of touch.

So how can leaders be better at truly listening to their teams? Let us discuss it this way from my previous title on character-based leadership:

Understand your people know what they are talking about. Leaders should never discount what their employees say as they are the closest to the customer. Make yourself accessible. The best listeners are accessible listeners.

Availing yourself to your people makes you more ready you listen to others. Don’t discount an idea pitch that has been worked on. Always listen to the rationale and ask questions to clarify. Understand the other person’s perspective by asking the key questions from their perspective. Don’t diminish an idea by being irritated.

Always be gracious and open to any pitch given. Being truly professional allows people to feel comfortable asking and presenting you with ideas. Don’t stroke your ego with a counter pitch. Great leaders won’t use their own pet project to squelch someone else’s suggestion. Truly listening means letting that person’s idea rise or fall on its own merits.

Know your limitations and your people’s strengths. Build on your forte every day because that is what has brought you to this far, however, know that you don’t have it all that is why you hired other with other strength to cover up your limitations.

Understand you never know where the next big idea comes from. Leaders who truly listen will listen to wherever that next big thing is pitched from. Listening means to use your people as an extension of your vision and to do what is necessary. It also means giving away control over every decision and project to give your people credit for their innovation.

Truly great leaders are truly great listeners. Use these principles to make yourself a person people feel comfortable bringing ideas to. As expressed by Michelle Holmes on the 4 A’s of Customer Service should be applied internally too and will enable a business to present itself in a way which ensures a higher Net Promoter Score (NPS) with its customers.

The 4 A’s stand for Appearance, Attention, Attitude and Accuracy, and whilst these are often applied purely as outward looking standards to help promote a business and improve customer service, they also underpin the internal customer service which is needed.

Looking at each of the 4 A’s there are very simple ways an organisation can improve its internal processes which will generate big external impacts. Appearance – First impressions count as much internally as externally.

When a colleague approaches you for help, the way you deal with that request immediately creates either resistance or a positive outcome. The colleague who sighs, pulls a face and makes a fuss when asked to support a colleague, is something we have probably all experienced, but this is a first impression that can cause long term damage.

For many organisations, where teams must work together to help their customers, the way colleagues deal with each other can really impact on the final service they deliver. If your appearance to your colleagues is open, helpful and willing to support, then the really big gains come from an improved communication flow, which leads automatically to a better service. Attention – Have you ever sat near a colleague who is always reading their texts, checking their emails or sorting through an in tray whilst you are trying to explain something of importance? This creates one of the most frustrating internal blockages to good communications internally. A sales person would never dream of ignoring a customer who was talking to them by checking their mobile or need to have requests repeated to them because they just weren’t listening.

However, with colleagues, this approach can be common place. Good internal attention requires colleagues to focus on their workmates and listen and respond. Simple good manners translate into really well-motivated teams and managers who are seen as positive and focused.

Accuracy – How easily do your colleagues find it to provide half-answers to questions, or provide out of date information because they cannot be bothered to search out the accurate information. The idea that you are being ‘efficient’ if you pass someone onto another contact who you ‘think’ knows the answer is nearly always doomed to failure.

Efficiency and shifting responsibility for providing the best and most accurate information are often confused. Great internal customer service puts an emphasis on finding the information or supplying the knowledge your colleagues need to get their jobs done. Accuracy is your communication, saves time, means you can deal with more enquiries and most importantly demonstrates a professionalism which creates loyalty and respect.

Those who demand respect because of position, but don’t demonstrate accuracy in their approach to their colleagues, rarely achieve the respect they crave, and this will always become evident to the external customer.

Attitude – Companies spend billions each year on the promotion of their brand and creating an external perception and appearance of a business. This is undermined completely when the personnel of that organisation do not reflect the values of the business. Poor motivation and negative attitudes towards colleagues can really hamper the business chances of success.

If your colleagues show a disrespectful attitude towards the business, the likelihood that they will adopt similar traits towards their customers are significantly increased. In a business climate where change is now a regular occurrence within companies and long-term security is no longer assured, it is obviously a major challenge to keep employees fully supportive of an organization, but with good internal mechanisms and a ‘positive, can do’ attitude shown at all levels, then the external perception of a business is hugely reinforced. The marketing spend is always better value when the company representative espouses the same positive views.

This use of internal customer service has in many ways been the biggest factor in a successful NPS score. When a customer arrives with a high expectation, the nuances of customer service are never lost, and having a customer service which is driven by a good internal application of the 4 A’s makes the likelihood of a high NPS much more realistic.

Businesses spend huge sums of money advertising their services and focus heavily on their external customer service. The only way of guaranteeing long-term success is to remember that the internal team requires the same clear focus and a customer service drive to reinforce all this hard work; to borrow the words of Stephen R. Covey "Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers”