In our work of teaching customer service to all kinds of organizations around the world in every industry, we’ve learned countless lessons about service from our clients. A key point in our book co-authored with Ken Blanchard, Legendary Service: The Key Is to CARE, is that the best companies see customer service not as a job for a few select people or departments; it’s everyone’s job. Why? Because everyone has customers. People who don’t serve external customers still have colleagues, teammates, or co-workers in other departments who need help. These internal customers deserve the same care, attention, and excellent service as any external customer.
One of our clients, a pharmaceutical company, experienced a large difference in the quality of customer service provided by their sales force versus their internal departments. The sales folks, as you might expect, were customer focused. But when customers would call headquarters about an issue with a product or delivery, they wouldn’t get that same high level of service. Instead, their call would get transferred around and bogged down in bureaucratic processes and attitudes that, unfortunately, had been repeated over the years. People in manufacturing, in delivery, and in the warehouse weren't communicating with each other—and the customers weren’t happy.
Our client’s approach was to bring their people together to help them understand how their behaviors and attitudes affected the customer experience—both good and bad. They initiated a policy where everyone worked together to prioritize customer service no matter their role in the company.
A large mortgage lending client had a problem with uneven service from various departments in terms of the amount of time it took to deliver rate quotes. So, the company’s brokers met with a group of internal teams. For the first time, these two areas shared their respective worlds, including what went into providing quotes to customers. In the process of sharing best practices, they discovered some bright spots, such as a spreadsheet one department had created for tracking and improving response times. Other teams that had never thought to design this type of relatively simple tool began using it with successful results.
Organizations that value a focus on customers recognize that some people never see or talk to an external customer. In this case, the service conversation concentrates on co-workers and team members in their own and other departments. Customer service is still everyone’s job in these companies because internal service affects the overall productivity and performance of the organization.
A Unique Mindset and SkillsetThe best companies also believe customer service has a unique mindset and a skillset. It is an everlasting culture shift, not a limited-time initiative. Customer service begins with a change in demeanor—one that goes beyond following a script.
Have you ever walked into a business and been greeted with a scripted welcome phrase—then you went out to your car, came back in, and heard the same mechanical phrase? It sure takes away from the goodwill they were trying to create. The best companies allow frontline employees to adapt a more personalized salutation based on their mindset of what it really means to serve.
But don’t worry if you don’t have a one-of-a-kind greeting. Even store clerks who ask a standard question such as, “Did you find everything you needed today?” can fill their voices with sincerity, look at the customers and smile, and mean what they say. Our approach teaches people the mindset and skillset to serve others authentically.
We recommend this approach to all companies because it works. For example, a large national medical group achieved their highest-ever patient satisfaction scores using this approach. We love the individual stories of change, like the nurse who says, “I never thought of a scheduler as my customer,” or the lending broker who says, “I never thought of the legal department as my customer.”
What does great customer service look like? The best companies see customer service as everyone’s job and teach the how and why as part of their onboarding. They demonstrate the mindset and skillset to every new hire: This is our expectation for people who work here. This is how we treat each other. And here’s how we treat our external customers.
We all know great customer service is important. You can create a culture of service that's never going away by focusing on what’s both inside (mindset) and outside (skillset). A service culture makes both your internal and external customers happy—and keeps them coming back.