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THE INTERNAL CUSTOMER--MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU MAY THINK> By Rama Beerfas May 1, 2009 (San Diego’s East County) --In our previous installment, we looked at customer service as your #1 marketing tool. (If you missed it, check it out at http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/?q=taxonomy/term/310.) This month, we focus on what exactly an internal customer is--nd why internal customers are just as important as your external customers to the success of your business.

 

If you have not yet figured it out, your internal customers are your employees and co-workers. Are you scratching your head wondering how someone who gets paid to be there every day can be a “customer”? (No, it’s not because that person got a job with you for the great employee discount you offer!) The reasoning is that if the employees of the company can’t, or don’t, buy into what the company is about (not to mention the products and services offered for sale), how can they do an effective job?

Our first priority should be to make sure that the people representing our business (employees), whether they have direct contact with our paying customers (external customers) or not, know the company philosophy and understand the products/services available for sale, and the parameters we expect for making those all-important sales.

Back in the days when I was a front office manager, making sure that my new, and sometimes existing, staff members were fully trained was one of my responsibilities. Each employee had a formalized training period in each area of the front office (operator, reservations, bell desk and front office) and on all duty shifts so that he or she was familiar with the technical aspect of the job. Once an employee's mentors signed off on the completion of training, I gave one last assignment: stay one night in the hotel as a guest (at the hotel’s expense) so that the employee could understand the property from the guests’ viewpoint.

From check-in to check-out, the employee was treated exactly as any guest would be. The consistent feedback I received from both seasoned hotel professionals and neophyte hospitality employees was that once they really understood the whole experience of staying at the property, they were better equipped to sell that experience effectively. I even got some constructive criticism on occasion on what we could be doing differently (from signage to noise reduction) to make it a better experience for our guests. These employees were now invested in their jobs and eager to give each guest the same pleasurable experience that they had personally enjoyed.

Jeff Toister, President of Toister Performance Solutions, Inc. comments, "We often don't treat our co-workers/employees with the same level of care as our customers, but we should. Providing outstanding internal customer service can improve productivity in the short run and lead to a highly engaged workforce over the long term. My most forward-thinking clients invest just as much in improving internal customer service as they do in upgrading external service. They know that harmony in the 'back of the house' can translate into more efficient operations and ultimately highly satisfied customers."

So how do we get those all-important internal customers to buy into the system? Provide them with the necessary training, tools, support, encouragement, and recognition that allows them to do their job in an environment that treats them like human beings who are of value to the business – not cogs in a machine. If possible, give them the opportunity to experience the process of being a customer. Make sure that they fully understand the nature of the business and what is expected from them.

Remember, too, that an employee who may never interact with a paying customer is still there to support the customer “touch point” employees. He or she needs to be given the same status of internal customers as those who work directly with your clientele every day.

Next time, we’ll explore the direct impact that the customer service delivered by your internal customers can have on your external customers.

Rama Beerfas is the Chief Solutions Specialist of San Diego-based Lev Promotions, offering marketing consulting and promotional product programs. Rama also offers seminars and training in topics related to marketing and customer service. She can be reached at (619) 697-2045 or at rama@levpromotions.com. Please submit requests for column topics to the above e-mail address.