So we all know the importance of marketing to our customers and prospects. Without their patronage, we can’t have a successful business.
But what about your internal customers? Are you marketing to them? If you are, is it effective?
Hold on a minute…what the heck is an “internal customer”? I hear you ask.
If you haven't heard that term, or didn't understand it when you did; your internal customers are all the employees and staff members of your company. 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, 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 clientele (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 hotel front office manager, making sure that my new (and sometimes not-so-new) staff members were fully trained was one of my responsibilities - I could argue my most important one. Each employee had a formalized training period in each area of the front office (operator, reservations, bell desk, valet and front office) and on all duty shifts so that s/he was familiar with the technical aspect of all the front office areas. Once an employee’s mentors signed off on the completion of training in each department, 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 employees who'd never been given this opportunity before 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 - 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 every effort to ensure that they fully understand the nature of the business and what is expected from them. Allow them to give feedback based on what they've experienced and heard from customers; and make sure they know that their comments are taken seriously.
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. After all, they person who washes the dishes in a restaurant kitchen can make even more of an impact than the chef; would you want to eat off a dirty plate, no matter how good the food is?