What’s Most Important, Internal Customer Service or External Customer Service?

For some reason customer service has been a big part of my first week of 2011. One was a personal experience and the other came from a comment left by a reader to this blog on a post from more than a year ago.

The blog comment came from an employee of Panera Bread who reinforced my post about the tremendous welcoming environment the restaurant provides its patrons. It’s worth a read if you’re not familiar with my post and the series of comments from those involved with Panera.

My personal customer service experience involved Zappos.com, who actually agreed to accept a pair of shoes from me that I purchased six months ago and wore in a regular shoe rotation in that time period.

The shoes, penny loafers, tore at the seam at the top of the tongue. Because I was a “VIP customer with a good account record” (I’ve only purchased two pair of shoes from them last May?), they would honor my request. Today, I received my new shoes overnight with a complimentary return label to return my damaged shoes.

I was pleased and amazed.

So, both of those examples point to outstanding external customer service. These two organizations are raising the bar on customer service, which is vitally important to customer rentention, customer loyalty, etc.

But, what is behind outstanding customer service besides a strategy and an expectation that team members provide it?

I believe the #1 factor in outstanding external customer service which leads to high levels of customer loyalty and retention, is without question, outstanding “internal customer service.”

Over the last six years, because of the work I’ve done with small business leaders, I’ve come to believe that most organization’s “internal customer service” is absolutely deplorable.

The common phrase I hear when I first sit down for conversations with prospective clients and then after I get on the job with a new client is “throwing people under the bus,” such as “our employees throw each other under the bus.”

Fortunately I’ve never worked for a school district because I’d be really concerned for the physical safety of the personnel at those firms.

If you’re not familiar with it, this phrase means that co-workers set their teammates up for failure in any number of ways, from telling their bosses about poor work quality or lack of follow through to maliciously sabotaging a project by withholding necessary information or providing mis-information to send them down the wrong path, thus making them look bad.

In these organizations it is virtually impossible to provide high-levels of external customer service while this type of behavior is going on internally.

That’s why I say “internal customer service” is vitally more important than “external customer service.” You just can not have outstanding “external customer service” without having outstanding “internal customer service.”

What is the work environment like in your organization?

Do your employees communicate with each other applying the 4-core values of high-performning organizations; respect, empathy, specificity and genuineness?

What could your customer service be like it they did?

’til next time, make it a great week!