Customer Service: Reconsider Who Your Customers Are
I was party to a discussion once where a supervisor was complaining that she had problems getting confront time with her manager. The manager responded, defensively “Well the customer comes first and when I’m busy with a customer everything else just has to wait.” Fair enough, on the confront of it, but does everything average everybody too? And who exactly is the customer?
Most of us understand “customer” to average the person who pays us to provide a service to them. We all realize that great service is one of the enticements to keeping our customers happy. But whose job is that, yours alone? If you work with a team, the responsibility rests with the complete team to provide great service to your external customers. This becomes patently impossible if the team are not serving one another effectively internally.
There could be many reasons why our supervisor may need confront time with her manager. It may be advice, awaiting approval in order to proceed, basic feedback, disciplinary issues or a multitude of other things. What is basic here is that the manager does not view his supervisor as his customer, and certainly not as a priority.
Why is it important to view your colleagues as customers? For starters, you use more time with them that you do with your external customers. Secondly, you rely on them to perform certain vital roles that will rule to customer satisfaction. This is because you yourself can not do everything – that’s why there’s the team.
In a work sense the internal customer should be regarded as more important than an external customer. Yes, you read that right. Everyone in your organization needs to understand that the external customer is very important, but that the internal customer is already more important. You may not have chosen to work with your colleagues – they were hired for their talents and skill, not because they’re your friends. In a successful work ecosystem we learn to work with a different group of people whom we may not naturally gravitate towards as friends – but we need them anyway. They are basic to our success. And consequently we need to set aside enough time for them so that they have the tools, the authority and the confidence to do what is expected of them. That includes, of course, dazzling the external customer with superb, friendly and efficient service.
There is of course the assistance too that people who feel acknowledged tend to be more helpful, friendly, cooperative and… yes, productive. This is because acknowledgement is addictive.
Without our external customers our organisation has no need to exist. But without a team to ensure that those customers are served properly, you have no mechanism to provide that service. So, your team members are your chief customers. Your immediate team is your personal responsibility. If you are part of a team, you need to nurture and protect your relationships within that team.
“A customer is someone with whom one has dealings”.
This definition is very simple, but it’s also also quite profound, and has general implications. So before making the noble statement “The customer comes first”, first reconsider who your customers are and who may be coming second or last as a consequence of putting a particular customer first.
There’s only so much that you can do on your own. Your internal customers are the people who will ensure that the job gets done.