Skip to main content

Want to Improve Customer Service? Start With Your Internal Customers

Want to Improve Customer Service? Start With Your Internal Customers

Southwest Airlines is often praised for its spectacular customer service and strong company culture — and for good reason. It understands that its customers aren’t just the external stakeholders who do business with the company; its employees are customers, too.

That’s right: Southwest focuses on providing great service to its internal customers, and you should, too.

In my experience, the happier employees are behind the scenes, the better the service they provide externally will be. It’s not about developing a team of cheery little elves slaving away in unison; it’s about the individuals within your company working together the best they can.

[Related: How To Encourage Loyalty In Your Team]

It can be challenging to shift your focus toward internal customer service, but the rewards are well worth it. Here are a few foolproof tips to guide you:

1. Strategize. Every company’s internal structure and mix of personalities is different, so a one-size-fits-all approach to internal customer service is bound to feel restrictive for some.

Write out a plan with your team leaders that identifies your specific departments, key areas in need of improvement, and the tasks you need to accomplish for the departments to be running at optimum efficiency. Designate point people for each part of the plan, and follow up on each task to keep everyone on track.

2. Get all departments involved. Keep all departments connected to ensure that your internal customer service plan is working and that your company is presenting a united front to the outside world. At my company, we hold a weekly team leader meeting to discuss how we can better serve our internal and external customers and resolve issues before they become full-blown problems.

For instance, tech people may not always see eye-to eye with marketing, and the sales team may be out of touch with the fulfillment group. The ability to bridge these gaps will determine how well your company interacts with its external customers.

3. Train for empathy. Spending plenty of time training your employees and your team leaders in the art of empathetic communication is a worthwhile investment. Being able to understand someone else’s role is vital for being sensitive to her needs and communicating effectively.

This is why we’ve implemented a shadowing program that allows employees to experience a day in the life of a member of another department. This helps them predict problems other team members may encounter and improves communication between departments.

[Related: Five Things Small Businesses Can Do To Create A Culture That Benefits Women]

4. Set clear expectations. Clarity is an important ingredient in customer service. For employees, knowing exactly what’s expected helps them produce better results and feel more fulfilled.

Southwest Airlines clearly communicates its ideals of a “Warrior Spirit,” a “Servant’s Heart,” and a “Fun-LUVing Attitude” to its employees and the world. This effort has had many tangible results, including helping the company make the World’s Most Admired Companies list for 20 consecutive years.

5. Create a positive environment. Positivity in the workplace creates an atmosphere where anything is possible. Employees naturally feel happier when they are respected at work and when they feel that they’re a valuable part of an awesome team.

This is why Nordstrom hires nice people and teaches them to sell (rather than hiring salespeople and trying to teach them how to be nice). Customer service is a way of life for Nordstrom, and as a result, its employees are willing to do whatever it takes to make a customer happy.

Richard Branson was right when he said, “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.”

When you treat your employees like customers and work tirelessly to ensure that they are happy and working well together, that positivity and efficiency will affect the way they treat your external customers. And when both your internal and external customers are taken care of, you’ll be well on your way to success.

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband co-founded Confirm BioSciences and TestCountry, where Ilgaz serves as president. Confirm BioSciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug testing technologies.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook: