Essentials Of Internal Customer Service: Training And Inspiring Employees To Serve Their Colleagues

[Originally published in The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).

What is internal customer service–a good, workable definition? And how can great internal customer service be accomplished–what are the principles and best practices we can apply to our own internal customer service training to enable us to provide the best customer service possible within our company?

The “what”: Internal customer service is when we provide customer service to the people we work with, helping them to do their best to serve external customers and promote the interests of our company.

Internal customer service is when the support staff serves the attorneys in a law firm. (It’s also when the attorneys turn around and provide customer service to their support staff.) It’s when medical administrators and technicians serve the physicians in healthcare. (It’s also when the physicians serve the administrators, technicians, nurses, and each other.) It’s when back-of-the-house employees serve the front of the house in the hospitality industry–as well as vice versa. (And, in your own particular industry, it’s whatever is analogous to these examples.)

The “how”: Here are eight internal customer service best practices: principles for transforming your company culture into one where internal customer service is a powerful force. Indeed, if you conduct any kind of internal customer service training, these can serve well as the backbone for what should be covered. (Note: I’m revisiting here my work on these pages–screens–from a year and a half ago, as it keeps coming up; in fact I find I’m asked, as a customer service consultant, about internal customer service nearly as often as I field questions about what we traditionally think of customer service: external.) If you would like a copy of these principles formatted for your use in the office, let me knowand I’ll take care of it for you.

1. Strive to serve both the expressed and the unexpressed wishes of your internal employees. Example: a fellow employee makes a specific request, by email. You can either send them exactly what they asked for (and nothing more), or you can also, thoughtfully, include the attachments that they will need to begin working on X, even though they didn’t explicitly ask for them.

2. Informality is acceptable internally–but kindness is non-negotiable. For example, we can informally answer an internal extension with “Purchasing–Jim” rather than “XYZ Homewares, Jim speaking, how may I help you today?”), but the spirit of kindness must prevail.

3. Respect is expected. With no exceptions. Bullying has to be addressed immediately, no matter how high up in the organization it occurs

4. “Please” and “Thank you” are not forbidden phrases. Use them often. Language matters, internally as well as externally, because feelings matter.

5. We step out of our assigned positions to do more for each other, and for the company. By embracing the spirit of lateral service– moving out of our assigned positions to help fellow employees when they are temporarily short-staffed, we build a stronger company for employees and external customers.

6. There are three stages to every service interaction: beginning, performing the service, and closing the service. If you only do the middle item (perform the service), you will fail. (Don’t be the tone-deaf manager who gets all the bills paid, processes payroll and completes the month-end reports but doesn’t say “good morning” or “have a nice evening.”)

7. What gets celebrated gets repeated. By celebrating the times when our fellow employees succeed at work, we inspire further success.

8. Without each other, there is no company. By serving our fellow employees, we empower them to serve their customers, and make magic happen.

Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).