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Are you gearing up to launch an internal customer service initiative? Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’m happy to equip you with insights that can catapult your initiative into success if you choose to do it on a DIY basis.
Before we dive into the details, let’s take a breather and understand the similarities and differences between internal and external customer service. While their essence should be the same, their surface manifestations differ.
Both types of customer service, at their heart, have the same goal: to create and sustain comfort, positive feelings, and, of course, results. However, there are a few notable places where the way you provide service should diverge.
Here are some differences between internal customer service and external customer service (when they’re done right):
- Jargon and shared language: Every industry, as well as almost every company, has its own set of terminologies, a sort of coded language that outsiders (at least if they’re not also in your industry) might find hard to decipher. With your internal customers — your colleagues in different departments or your own — you can use this jargon and language shortcuts freely, confident in their understanding and without fear of alienating them with phrases, terms, and abbreviations that may be foreign to them.
- Level of formality: With internal customers (colleagues), you are free to adopt a casual tone, skipping the formalities you would use with someone who is outside of your company. In fact, the formalities essential for external customers may be unnecessary (or even sound a little silly) when you’re interacting with colleagues.
- Transparency with company information: This one is obvious. You must protect your company’s private matters when working with external customers. With an internal customer, such data may be essential, or at least helpful, in completing their work.
- The amount of abuse you should be willing to take: Okay, this is a big one and not a very pleasant one to ponder. When working with an external customer, if they are rude, they may be a rude person all the time, or they may be “just” venting this one time and will return to being themselves the next time you encounter them. Either way, because external customers pay for our company’s success, you may need to put up with it. With an internal customer, if they behave badly, you may want to call them on it or even alert a superior, particularly if you have clear internal (company) behavioral guidelines. Of course, in some company cultures, this may be a career suicide move, so you should still proceed with caution.
Armed with this understanding, let’s dig into the bedrock principles of internal customer service. Here are eight essentials to build into your internal customer service training — and, if all goes well, your internal customer service culture.
- Every service interaction unfolds in three stages: the warm welcome, service or product delivery and fond farewell. Far too often, we ignore stages one and three and focus all our effort on the middle one, what we consider the actual work. But the pleasantries at the beginning and the end of any customer service interaction are key, considering how human memory emphasizes beginnings and endings in how it later reviews an event.
- Mental reframing can be a game-changer. Start viewing tasks in your inbox as requests from valued customers instead of just “those folks in the other department.” — You’ll observe a boost in your own efficiency and enthusiasm.
- As with external customers, internal customers desire recognition. They want their colleagues to see them, not just think of someone who fills up their inbox.
- Address both the spoken and unspoken needs and desires of your co-workers. When they communicate with you, listen for the undertones that can give you clues to their emotional (and practical) desires, even if they’ve never verbalized them to you.
- Emphasize the principle of lateral service: stepping out of your comfort zone to help colleagues during staff shortages. This fosters a more resilient company culture.
- Respect should be a given. Bullying, regardless of its source, should be nipped in the bud. (Whether this is realistic depends on your company culture, level within your company, and other internal factors.)
- Consideration (kindness, really) should be at the base of everything we do.
- Language is potent. Steer clear of phrases that belittle or devalue your colleagues (“Like I told you previously,” “You’re not my only priority, you know,” and so forth.) And remember, “please” and “thank you” pack a positive, if quiet, punch. Use them liberally.
What format should be used for internal customer service training?
When it comes to internal customer service training, there are a few formats to consider. One option is customer service eLearning-based training, which offers the advantage of being asynchronous (can be used at any time and at any pace) and long-lasting (has value in the future as well as present). With eLearning, employees can access the training material at their own pace regardless of their shift or schedule, and it can be used by future employees and as a central part of your future onboarding process.
Live customer service training is another effective route to take, whether conducted in person or through remote video. This allows for real-time interaction and immediate feedback. To enhance the effectiveness of live training, it can be beneficial to supplement it with physical collateral, such as handouts or reference materials. These aids can help reinforce the essential points and ensure that everyone is on the same page — literally!