Branding Your Internal Customer Service
By Stephanie A. Parson
“Be loose and have fun. Bake phenomenal bread. Run fast to help customers. Create strong and exciting bakeries. And give generously to others.”
To satisfy your internal customers, learn what is important to them and try to meet those expectations. Even better, try to exceed them. Their needs may not relate only to the product or service, but to the total experience. An IT department can provide great uptime; however, if the customers find the service rude or the atmosphere uncomfortable, if they have a choice, they won’t go back. If they don’t have a choice, they will look for methods to work around the IT team – perhaps even begin to plant the seeds of why outsourcing should be an option for the organization.
Often customers have implicit expectations. For example, you may not realize you expect politeness and friendliness from an HR team member until you encounter a rude employee. If you want your internal customers (internal business partners) to share their great experiences with others, you need to create a Wow moment. For instance, one IT technician exceeded customer expectations by volunteering to spend her lunch time working with the company’s administrative staff on the ins and outs of the new time sheet application.
Five factors drive internal customer satisfaction:
1. Core product or service – Usually, this is not the main issue, since your products or services are already of high quality – keep validating this fact.
2. The support services and systems – These systems back up your core product and can include delivery, billing, availability, hours of service, levels of staffing, repair and technical support, help lines and other programs.
3. Technical performance – Perform as expected, such as delivering products on time.
4. Customer interaction – This includes the way you provide service, whether face-to-face or through technology; you want to make customers comfortable during the interaction.
5. The emotional or affective dimension of service – This involves how you make the customer feel. Ideally, customers should feel more than satisfied; if they could give you a grade for satisfaction, they should want to give you a Ten; ratings of only eight or nine aren’t enough.
To create this high level of satisfaction, look at what matters to your internal customers and consider how you can add value. Creating value doesn’t only mean lowering prices, lowering services or adding product features and benefits. For value to be meaningful, your customers must perceive an improvement in value that makes them feel more satisfied. You can define such value only from the customer’s perspective, based on what is most important to each customer.
A business should develop a relationship with its internal customers which nurtures commitment and cultivates loyalty. This customer partnership comes from an attitude of genuine and expressed respect for your business part and the overall business. What do you do to ensure you meet or exceed your internal customers’ needs?
Many divisions within an organization have Service Level Agreements (SLA) with their customers and make the assumption that if they meet the SLA then their customers should be satisfied. Others meet with their customers on a semi-regular basis to check in – and some go as far as having one of their team members “sit in” at the customer’s location. What does your organization do to “know in its knower” that they’ve done their very best to meet or exceed the customers’ needs?
What makes partnerships work?
Abundance: A non-competitive attitude of abundance and generosity focuses on the belief that the partnership can result in an infinite amount of benefit. As in any valued relationship, increased contribution causes it to grow and prosper.
Trust: A sense of trust encompasses reliability, assurance and faith, and leaves partners feeling confident. Such trust breeds the confidence to reach further and deal with tough situations.
Dream: Shared visions, aims, missions and purposes result in mutual benefits.
Truth: This requires candor, openness, authenticity, and the courage to ask for feedback and to give it compassionately. Truth kills guilt and deceit, and nurtures all partnerships.
Balance: Equity and fairness focuses on just outcomes for the partnership.
Grace: Peace, tranquility, calm, ease and composure become the norm, despite infrequent pressured encounters or situations.
Gratitude & Appreciation: This requires not taking your internal customer for granted. While you may be “the only company solution/provider”, you know that if your customers did not need your product/service, your team would not exist. Cost is not the only reason companies outsource certain services.
Respect: Acknowledging and showing respect for the contributions your business partners make to your team’s success and the overall success of the organization will demonstrate your respect of your business partners.
Cultivate a rapport with customers that leads them to feel like family and to recommend your services. This partnership approach results in long-term loyalty from your customers. Internal customer partnerships have certain characteristics. They are anchored in a generous attitude, grounded in trust, bolstered by a joint purpose and based on balance and grace. These relationships are built on honesty, candor and straight talk. This service is based on your commitment to unconditional, high-value service.
You can measure how you are doing in building customer relationships by examining shareholder value and sales, or by using other scoring methods. Try to devise ways to measure customer satisfaction and retention, customer turnover, customer service standards, employee turnover, employee training, innovation, partnerships and strategic alliances. Assess all the dimensions of your customer relationships, including trust, reliability and responsiveness to gauge a broad range of customer attitudes toward your company.
More than service with a smile: service with a brand
Strong brands can motivate customers to take specific actions. Fulfilling or beating customers’ expectations creates a powerful, long-lasting impression, as verified by studies of customers and advertising claims. Consumer studies showed that ads that tell customers what to expect combined with actual service that meets or surpasses the ads’ claims creates the most positive brand links.
The lesson from these studies was straightforward: the most powerful bond between brand and reputation is service, more specifically, branded service. In addition, pairing service and brand generates a competitive advantage. You can give customers personalized quality service that they can’t find replicated elsewhere. Competitively, this combination of quality and personalization is unbeatable.
Each customer contact employee who practices brand message awareness magnifies your brand’s positive impact. A study by the American Society for Training and Development found that companies that trained their staff members to deliver branded customer service had several advantages over companies that did not provide employees with brand awareness training. These advantages included:
• 57% more sales per employee
• 37% higher gross profits
Barlow (2004) suggests the following to make branded customer service a company-wide effort. Managers should:
• Teach employees how the company’s customer service, marketing and mission statement define your brand and what they must do to deliver on those promises.
• Get management and all employees to buy into delivering on those customer service brand promises.
• Let employees deliver these promises in their own individual, characteristic ways with flair and personality. Do not force them to memorize canned scripts.
• Deliver on the brand’s promises consistently to all customers.
• Once all employees understand the basics of the customer service brand they should use such terms as on-brand and off-brand to identify when other employees are acting in accordance with the brand’s promise (on-brand) and when they are not (off-brand).
An organization that delivers branded customer service should resonate with customers because it is different and because it emphasizes a key brand characteristic (e.g, freshness, knowledge or cleanliness), which it delivers naturally and consistently. The first step toward delivering internal branded customer service is to distill your brand’s essence.
In preparation, your company’s branding team should answer these questions:
- What is the brand’s mission and purpose of our products and/or services?
- What promise does the brand make to customers?
- How are these brand values delivered to customers?
- How is the brand seen in our business?
- What is our identity?
- What stories of our successes and failures exist in the business?
- How does this brand strategy align with the overall business customer brand strategy?
- How does this strategy align with the strategic direction of the business?
The answers will provide the basis for branded customer service and can produce some remarkable changes.
Conduct your internal brand marketing program face-to-face. Don’t fall back on the easy way and run it all through your website. Instead, hold small and large meetings. Engage your business partners – at all levels. Ask for feedback and ideas. Involve opinion leaders among your employees. Often, they are natural leaders who have great credibility with their co-workers. This effort may also produce a “customer service brand champion,” someone passionately involved with the brand and its ideals. Finally, do not inundate employees with paper work, e-mails and numerous presentations. Fewer, but more effective, presentations work best
To add a new dimension to the company, select employees according to a spectrum of abilities, including how well they can embody the customer service brand. To be successful, hiring must seek people with the skills and personality characteristics to deliver the brand benefits to customers.
Finally, to drive home the entire branded customer service message, your branding team should visit a company that they admire for its brand prowess and analyze its branding practices. For example, one company has a statement which includes: “Be loose and have fun. Bake phenomenal bread. Run fast to help customers. Create strong and exiting bakeries. And give generously to others.”
Stephanie A. Parson, Ph.D., is the president of Crowned Grace International.
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