Internal and External: Customers Come Both Ways
It was almost 22 years ago but we remember it like it was yesterday. We had just finished our very first presentation together and had gone out to dinner at a fancy schmancy restaurant to celebrate. Rich said something like, “I apologize in advance if the service is bad, because bad service seems to follows me everywhere.” But it didn’t follow him here, the customer care in this restaurant was impeccable – and the food was good, too.
After we finished our meal, the waiter, a pleasant young man who obviously enjoyed his job, came by and asked if we’d like dessert. We both said we didn’t think so, but he returned a few minutes later with a dessert cart. And this was no ordinary dessert cart, this one had a beautiful cut-glass lid that when lifted revealed all kinds of tempting treats. The cool thing was that what you saw was what you get – we picked our desserts right off of that cart. Instant gratification!
Georganne chose cheesecake, and Rich, chocolate lover that he is, went for the chocolate mousse. We grabbed our silverware and dug in. That was when George noticed a strange look on Rich’s face.
He was turning various shades of red and he seemed to be gasping for breath. He wasn’t choking but George could tell he was in trouble. She asked what was wrong, but he couldn’t answer, so she screamed for help.
We’re not going to tell you the full story just in case you happen to be eating, but suffice to say our experience took out the two tables next to us. We don’t think they even finished their meals. To make a long story short, Rich’s delicious chocolate mousse wasn’t chocolate mousse at all. It was lard; lard all dressed up to look like a fancy dessert.
The restaurant’s owner was mortified. Once it was determined that Rich was okay he couldn’t do enough for us. He apologized and comped our dinners. He even graciously gave us all gift certificates and begged us to please come back and dine at his restaurant again.
When things calmed down, our waiter came back and sat down with us. The poor guy was more shaken up than we were. He couldn’t apologize enough and took responsibility for what had happened. He said, “I’m sorry. I’m new here and some of the other waiters aren’t so friendly. They were playing a joke on me. It’s happened before but I caught it in time. I should have checked the dessert cart before presenting it to you but this time I just didn’t do it.” We assured him that it wasn’t his fault and left him a big tip.
This experience has never left us. And not just because we’re leery of chocolate mousse. It never left us because of that waiter’s anguish. This young man was an incredible wait person just trying to do his job. He was friendly, caring, and knowledgeable – everything guests want in a service provider and everything you want in an employee. And obviously everything some underachieving employee wanted to sabotage.
Here’s the deal: Great service is a never-ending circle because everyday you serve two kinds of customers: External customers and Internal customers. External customers are the reason you are in business. Meeting the needs, and exceeding the expectations, of your external customers is priority number one. Internal customers are the people on your team, as well as vendors and anyone else you work with to take care of the needs of your external customers. You cannot WOW your external customers if your associates are at odds.
Who suffers when the cashier needs the stock person to load a customer’s car but the stock person views the cashier’s request as an interruption?
Who suffers when a sales associate does an incredible job of helping a guest choose the things she’ll need to create a scrapbook for her friend’s new baby, but the cashier casually tosses the merchandise in a bag, and doesn’t even bother to say “Thank you”?
Who suffers when a guest asks for help and the associate tells her that the person who knows “this stuff” is on break so she’ll have to come back later.
Who suffers when you ask an associate to check if an item is in stock for a customer on the telephone, but the associate is too busy doing other things to get back to you?
Do these examples sound far fetched? They’re not, they are right out of our customer focus groups. In each example it’s not just the customer who suffers – ultimately you will too as word gets around that service in your store is lacking. Here’s what you can do to ensure internal harmony:
1. Hold a store meeting to explain the difference between external and internal customers, and why both are important to the success of the store. Help your associates understand that their jobs will ultimately be easier when everyone works together toward a common goal. Explain that interruptions from you, or anyone else are not annoyances, but occasions to serve a guest’s immediate needs. Encourage your associates to thank one another for their efforts.
2. Together with your team, list any obstacles that would prevent them from providing good internal service. Take steps to fix or eliminate the obstacles on the spot. If an obstacle cannot be fixed at your meeting, then take the necessary steps afterward to make sure every associate knows it has been fixed or eliminated.
3. And remember that a thank you from the boss goes a long way in promoting internal harmony. A handwritten note or our CITA Card – Caught In The Act of Delighting a Guest – will work wonders, too. E-mail us for a CITA Card template that you can easily customize.
A retailer once told us, “Customer service isn’t quantum physics, it’s twice as hard.” Isn’t that the truth? It’s tough enough, juggling the many needs of today’s demanding external customers, but it’s a whole lot easier when you know your fellow co-workers will always be there to watch your back.
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