12 Ways to Ensure your Internal Customers Look After your External Customers

How can service leaders look after their staff and ensure they are engaged and motivated to better serve customers?

Internal vs. External Locus of Control. Letter Tiles on Yellow Background. Minimal Aesthetic.
Contact CentreInsights

Published: September 20, 2023

Stephanie Edwards

Stephanie Edwards

In a previous article I spoke of the importance of recruiting ‘Service Champions’ and in this article I want to emphasise just how important it is to have Great Service Leaders who have the ability to create passionate employees. I am reminded of Dale Carnegie’s quote, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”

One key leadership task is to create an environment in which your people can become passionate about your vision. If service leaders are passionate and consistent, reinforcing consistent messages, then your people will quickly understand what is important to you and the organisation. Service leaders and managers who are passionate about service excellence for their customers and who are visionary, inspirational and charismatic will lead your people to achieve great things for the whole organisation.

Highly visible leadership provides powerful reinforcement. It will inspire everyone in the organisation to be part of the cycle of service excellence, adopting a ‘Can-Do Attitude’. All employees in great organisations are passionate about what they do and this inspiration extends to customers, investors, suppliers, boards of directors and all other stakeholders.

In its ongoing series of ‘Top 10 Best Companies to Work For’, Fortune magazine highlightsf that when employees are asked why they love working for the best companies they don’t mention pay, reward schemes or advancing to a more senior position. They speak first of the sincerity of the relationships at work. These passionate employees describe their work culture as an extension of home, or like being with family. They speak enthusiastically of their colleagues as being supportive.

Managers of these top ten companies are characterised as genuinely caring; every single employee really matters. These employees looked forward to going to work – a place to maximise their talent with like-minded people.

Successful businesses are built on high calibre relationships which in turn reflect on the way employees treat their customers. As Richard Branson was quoted: “If you look after your internal customers you don’t have to worry about the external customers.”

I think we all know what he means. Richard Branson and Alan Hughes, former CEO of First Direct, have both stated whenever they have a few moments to spare they would go into their call centres and talk to their people on the front line – can you imagine what this meant to those employees? Motivation levels sky rocketed. Incidentally, First Direct were the first bank to provide a crèche, showing their concern was not only for their staff but their families too

Walk the talk

One of the best strategies is to walk the talk, but be consistent with your communication themes. Some managers think chatting to their employees about social issues is all they need to do to build relationships with them – wrong! Your people need to know exactly what is important to you and the business.
Service leadership is all about relationships with people, and you can’t relate without listening. You can have the most competent leader in the world, but if he or she doesn’t listen then his or her leadership potential will go unrealised. Make your conversations count. Speak with confidence and brave the real issues. Always remain positive and contribute that which is helpful. Don’t use your words to criticise or divide individuals or teams. Be the first to roll up your sleeves and do whatever it takes to help out your team – they will respect you for your efforts.
Always be honest, define reality, trust is born out of the truth and masking the truth breeds mistrust and disrespect. Be open and honest and your people will go the extra mile with you. Everyone needs to take responsibility for what they do or do not get accomplished in a day. Everyone can be successful if they consistently do the right things but transparency and reliability within your teams translates into ownership – ownership of the task in hand – and taking ownership of customers is key to customer satisfaction.
Develop a change management plan using your organisation’s customer service strategy and start creating employee passion by choosing the right messages for the right people, constantly talk about your service promise and you will build credibility with your people and in doing so create passion for your vision.
Effective service leadership is more than just management – it builds customer centricity into traditional managerial skills. A good service leader offers direction to people, gets them to share his or her vision for the business, and aims to create conditions for them to achieve great results with their customers.
Developing the right attitudes and behaviours is the biggest challenge to service leaders and managers. I am often asked, “How do I motivate my people?” The way your employees feel about their job and their workplace determines how motivated they are. There is a clear link between job satisfaction and productivity. However, job satisfaction also depends on the service culture of an organisation. This culture comprises the things that make your business distinctive and make the people who work there proud to do so.
In addition to ensuring that staff enjoy varied, interesting work with job switches, as a service leader you can motivate your workforce by:
  1. Providing high-quality training and development – continually reinforcing the importance of service excellence, particularly with the goal of changing mindsets and attitudes towards customers;
  2. Operating an ‘open door’ policy in which service leaders and managers are approachable and following the example of Peter Cunningham, head of retail operations at World Duty Free – ensuring that  your service leaders spend at least 80% of their time with customers and staff;
  3. Leading by example and displaying consistent and genuine behaviour which also translates into leaving your personal problems at home;
  4. Having respect for a good work-life balance – e.g. offering the opportunity for flexible working;
  5. Encouraging fairness at work, including promoting equality and diversity;
  6. Ensuring proactive and regular communication, staff newsletters and regular team meetings;
  7. Conducting regular appraisals with positive feedback – restating service objectives and recognising your staff’s contribution;
  8. Encouraging your teams to be innovative, via staff suggestion schemes, for example;
  9. Empowering your people to own customers problems and ‘Go the Extra Mile’ for them;
  10. Gaining staff feedback on how employees feel about their roles, the support they receive and suggested business improvements which they may have identified; (one global company developed a “Mood Rater” – on the first Wednesday in every month they select fifty employees to ask exactly how they feel at that moment in time);
  11. Offering employees the chance to socialise with colleagues at organised events,  team building events, talent shows, A Wine Appreciation Group and putting them forward for Customer Service Awards;
  12. Recognising and rewarding employees for exceptional performance and innovative ideas to improve the customer experience.
Mr Yap, from Singapore Airlines, once stated: “We have very talented and good people. We have good industrial relations, good HR management, and we look after our staff well. Because when we look after our staff well, our staff look after our customers well. It is a very simple statement, but also a very powerful statement.” (Source: ICS research , ‘Service Excellence = Reputation = Profit’ by Professor Robert Johnston, Warwick Business School)
So in summary be sympathetic to the needs of your service professionals –  inspire, involve and reward them and you will reap the benefits. Employees who are passionate about their role will consistently deliver the promise both to you, the service leader, the organisation and  – most importantly – the customer!
Stephanie Edwards is managing director of Customer 1st Internationaland Customer 1st Learning.

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