We all know that customer service, or keeping our paying customers satisfied, matters.
External customer service drives customer experience, customer loyalty, revenue, and even profitability. According to an article about external customer service, published by McKinsey, the impact of improving the customer experience increases sales revenues by 2-7% and profitability by 1-2%. It also has implications for shareholder returns. It is apparent that customer service is a skill worth investing in.
What is less apparent is the value of internal customer service: the support that internal functions provide to each other and external-facing teams. However, time and again companies in all industries see a connection in culture and in operations: internal customer service sets the foundation for excellence in external service. Internal customer service also matters.
For many internal service employees, customers are people who are far removed from the day to day. They exist in a distant place, a "somewhere out there." It's rare for people to consider another employee at their company a “customer." But in reality, everyone is a customer many times a day, and employees are often customers to each other when a request requires input from multiple functions. What if internal interactions were conducted with more intentionality and everyone started treating internal requests with the same diligent attention given to external customers?
Customer service is far more than answering the phone with a smile (literally or proverbially), making restitution for poor experiences, or generally fielding requests with a good attitude. Customer service is a mindset that yields a sense of trust — and it represents a way to approach interactions with individuals not just outside of an organization but also within.
But how can an organization help internal functions see the impact of their performance? What can internal service providers do to improve service in each interaction?
Insight Experience recently developed a custom learning experience and busines simulation for a professional services firm concerned with lackluster internal customer service interactions. Due to rapid expansion, the firm had developed a patchwork of employees, processes, systems, and cultures hailing from diverse professional backgrounds and companies. To make a positive impact on the organizational culture; improve relationships through interactions; and, ultimately, deliver strong external customer service, this company decided a customer service business simulation was just the solution they needed.
In the leadership program developed for this heterogeneous professional services firm, we teach a model for what we call the Building Blocks of Excellent Customer Service. This model is a framework that supports the concept of a Customer Service Mindset. To develop a mindset for strong customer service interactions, we provide four discrete steps:
- Understand. Seek to understand the true need behind the request and the various tensions at play.
- Own. Take personal ownership for the request, refusing to cast it off to someone else without doing your due diligence.
- Serve. Deliver excellent service by either completing the task yourself or finding the right resource to answer the need.
- Communicate. To ensure the request is fulfilled, follow up with the person who made the request and others who might be involved.
Another way to develop a Customer Service Mindset and skills is through role plays with real-time observation and feedback. For a multinational financial technology company, Insight Experience uses role plays to teach collaboration, relationship-building with business partners, and acting from a customer-centric point of view. Participants in this program must practice putting the customer at the center through a conversation with an ambitious peer who is not very tuned in to interpersonal dynamics or values. In the conversation, the peer is very focused on operational solutions and the participant is challenged to find a common goal, elevate the peer’s perspective to consider the customer, and identify potential solutions.
These types of conversations help leaders translate the Courageous Dialogue content presented in the learning program into observable behavior. Not only are learners challenged to understand different (and sometimes competing) needs, but they are also operating with a goal to shift the point of view to the customer and choose solutions that benefit many while improving internal relationships. These customer service skills are not easily learned from a textbook and require practice and experiential learning to become second nature.
Customer service is all about building blocks and cumulative interactions. Relationships are built on dozens of seemingly insignificant positive interactions that, over time, build trust and rapport. The same is true for negative interactions: they lead to superficial or unstable relationships. Simulations and role plays help internal- and external-facing employees deliver better service to all their customers.
When all employees have a Customer Service Mindset, culture is strong. When internal customer service is exceptional, external customer service shines.
Bethany primarily works on simulation design and facilitates the Leadership Foundations program. She is also a project manager and contributor to the Insight Experience blog. She is passionate about finding the potential in people and processes and developing that potential for remarkable results.