- Sam Walton of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has been quoted as having said it takes just seven days for new employees to start treating customers the way they are treated at work. All the customer service skills and training in the world can be undone in only one week if an employee is treated poorly by his or her co-workers or boss.
Similarly, an employee placed in an environment of mutual respect, trust and accountability could quickly move from a so-so performer to an extraordinary service provider in the customer's mind.
Companies spend countless amounts of time and resources on developing quality customer service techniques. Employees are taught that the customer is always right. They are taught to do whatever it takes to get and keep a customer's business. What is often overlooked is internal customer service. Companies talk the talk to the outside world, but don't walk the walk with their own people.
Do you give your internal customers a positive or negative service message? Ask yourself these questions:
- How do managers react when there's an external customer service problem? A manager's job is to be sure his team is providing good service externally, but does he support them when there's a problem? Some managers place blame, become angry and step in with the customer, making it obvious to everyone that the person on the line did a poor job. Better managers support their people and provide whatever backing the employee needs to make the customer happy. Instead of finding fault, they help find solutions. In the end, the customer is happy, the employee maintains his dignity and, ideally, the employee learns how to do better the next time.
- Is your staff empowered to make decisions? The classic scenario of no empowerment is a car salesperson constantly checking with the sales manager to obtain approval during negotiations. This type of environment teaches employees that they have little or no say in the decision and it sends a message to the customer that he is dealing with the wrong person. As a customer, don't you wish you could just talk directly to the sales manager and save the hassle? If employees are empowered to make decisions and solve problems on the spot, the customer will go away satisfied most of the time.
- Do co-workers support each other? Most people don't work alone; they rely on others to help them get the job done. When someone needs information from a co-worker, is it delivered on time? If people don't deliver on deadline internally, the end product will be late to the customer. When that happens, co-workers start the process of covering their own skins and placing the blame on others -- nobody takes accountability for the missed deadline.
- Do your employees have the tools to do the job? Perhaps that car salesperson had to keep running to his manager because he didn't know enough about the dealership's negotiation policies to make the deal on the spot. While you're training the staff on how to satisfy customers, also consider training on team-building, time management and other techniques to help the staff work as a cohesive unit.
- How do you match up against your competitors? Is your competition using your weaknesses against you in a sales pitch? If your staff feels like they're getting beat up by the competition, their attitudes can slip quickly. Poor morale around the office leads to lower incentives to do a good job for the customer, making the situation spiral downward. Don't just sit back and let the competition tell your story, work on problems internally so your employees feel confident out on the street.
- Do your employees think service is important? Top management needs to send the message that service is a priority, both internal and external service. People must be accountable for their actions and must be motivated to do their best work. Some companies think tactics such as "Employee of the Month" recognitions are corny; but for many employees, that internal recognition goes a long way in goodwill -- goodwill that is passed on to the customer.
- How are customers treated behind the scenes? If your top customer was a fly on the wall in your office, would he or she still be a customer? Companies that allow employees to bad mouth customers are breeding an environment of mistrust. If a junior employee hears a top executive trashing a customer, he is going to lose sight of the fact that the customer is your company's livelihood. Employees in that environment are more likely to talk bad about their co-workers and engage in back-stabbing behavior.
A company's culture is set by top management; employees learn what's acceptable by watching what those at the top say and do. Therefore, if you set a tone for support and service, it will pay off in satisfied customers, inside the company and out.