7 Internal Customer Service Tips to Turn Things Around

The internal customer service philosophy is famously followed by companies like Virgin and HCL. By putting employees first, everything else falls into place.

This turns the traditional management pyramid upside down. Instead of commanding, management's role is reframed as supporting. Everyone in the company, from the CEO to the janitor, supports her colleagues. These colleagues are the company's internal customers.

But what does it look like in practice? Here are 9 practical internal customer service tips.

1
Offer company wide communication training

Communication training is common practice in customer service departments. But good communication is also the lubricant for all internal collaboration. Employees from all departments benefit from training in effective communication.

You could enroll your employees in online courses on platforms like Udemy, for example. Or you could hire the services of, say, the Dale Carnegie institute.

2
Set up internal service standards

Many companies make use of customer service standards to guarantee a minimum quality level of customer communication. Standards could relate to metrics like response time, handovers per issue, single question rate, etc.

Service standards bar.

To increase internal service quality, you could consider adding internal standards. Response time could be one, but also consider the number of people included in group emails – which in many companies leads to unnecessary distractions.

Of course these standards don't need to be as strict as external service standards. But merely measuring already stimulates awareness and sensitivity towards it.

3
Reiterate the message

Internal customer service requires a company wide mindshift. A single announcement won't do; it's a message that needs to be reiterated again and again.

Infographic of correlation of reminders and freshness of mind.
By repeating the message, you ensure it sticks.

Our co-founder Timoor Taufig shared his view in his post on creating company values:

Being forgotten is another way for your core values to lose credibility. That's why I'm repeating them to the point of annoyance. At least my team knows I stand behind them.

Timoor Taufig, co-founder Userlike

Interviews, standups, 1-on-1's, quarterly reviews, Christmas Dinner speeches – they're all opportunities for reminding your team about your values.

4
Empower your employees

Empowerment is one of the levers for improving customer satisfaction. When your service reps are not empowered, their freedom of movement is limited. When a case falls outside of the prescribed processes, they cannot improvise but need to ask higher-ups for input or permission – delaying and frustrating the service experience.

But it's the same for collaboration within a company as well. When collaborating with your colleagues, you'll move much faster when you're authorized to make your own decisions – supported by a framework of rules and granted latitude to experiment.

5
Set up an employee idea exchange system

Everybody has ideas; so why only consider those of top management? Frontline employees are with more in number and in direct contact with customers, making them the most likely source for powerful ideas.

An employee feedback system allows you to collect all these valuable inputs. Through HCLT's Value Portal, for example, employees from all its ranks can exchange thoughts on certain topics. This also engages employees to think about the company's purpose and direction, strengthening their emotional connection.

A good system:

  1. Collects ideas from across the whole company.
  2. Organizes ideas in threads open to discussion.
  3. Creates a feedback loop, notifying the employee whether or not something is done with her idea.
  4. Gives credit to the source when a particular idea is implemented, stimulating others to share as well.

6
Visualize through your company chart

The reversed pyramid stresses the supportive role that management plays in the company. You could actually visualize this in the company charts.

The reversed management pyramid.
Company charts can clearly visualize your philosophy.

Instead of putting top management on top, you show it as the basis. According to labeling theory, people's behavior is influenced by the terms used to describing them. A visualized chart on the office walls can have a similar self-fulfilling effect.

7
Ensure two-way accountability and transparency

In most professional setups the subordinates are accountable to their managers. Managers do the reporting and coaching of those under their supervision.

A report

But from an internal customer service perspective, the customer should be the one providing feedback. That's why many companies also use 360 degree reviews for managers. In them, employees could be asked to grade their managers on coaching or leadership skills.

And just like transparency is a core principle of external customer service, it also is for its internal counterpart. A company like Buffer shows respect for its employees by being fully transparent about its salaries, equity, revenue, and more.

8
Highlight employee impact

Most employees work too far from the bottom line to realize the impact of their work. Showing this can make them realize who they're really working for: the customer.

Some ideas:

  • Team events. Making a tour past the company's different departments can help put everyone's work in perspective. A janitor working at NASA could describe his job as cleaning the building; or he could say he's assisting in putting a man on the moon.
  • Case studies. These are mostly used as a marketing tool, but they can also show your employees how your customers make use of your products.
  • All hands support. This is the practice of letting everyone – marketers, developers, sales – spend regular time doing customer support. It might not work in all cases, but some level of employee rotation towards support helps to stay in touch with the group that is finally calling the shots.

9
Highlight the team impact

Just like you might not realize how your own work is contributing to the bottom line, you might not recognize the contributions of other teams. This isn't conducive to respectful collaboration between departments, and thus internal customer service.

By showcasing the work and achievements of different teams, you can break this common situation. At Userlike, we use the quarterly team event UserlikeThursday for team members to present what they do and how it benefits the total picture.

Pascal presenting at UserlikeThursday
At one of our UserlikeThursday events – exchanging what we're working on.

Another solution could be cross-departmental teams. Instead of departments working grouped by function, you organize your teams around projects – forcing marketers, support reps, and developers to work closely together and recognize each other's strengths.

A switch to internal customer service is a switch in philosophy. While you can start with some of these tips today, it will take time before the values become ingrained in your company's DNA. Check out our post "5 Pragmatic Tips for Creating Company Core Values" for more tips.