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With the rise in customer service as a strategic objective, companies are looking at customer satisfaction as a primary measurement of success. Even where client satisfaction is high, the challenge is making it even better. Constant service improvement then becomes the yardstick. In this rush to understand customer needs and exceed their expectations, we see a danger in overlooking a key ingredient: the employee. As managers keen on embracing the changing business culture, we're liable to let an external focus eclipse an internal prerequisite.

To get better service, we need a renewed focus on the employee and the internal support department. We believe that internal customer service must become the basis for external client satisfaction. To put it bluntly: there is no excellence in external service without excellence in internal service. As Paul Hawken says "Responsiveness in, responsiveness out."

What do we mean by internal service? We mean a genuine desire to meet employee and department needs to the extent that our people marvel at the service they receive from the company and from each other. This service should occur in three directions:

1. From Company to Employee,
2. From Employee to Employee, and
3. From Employee to Company

This suggests a pervading sense of service that starts in our own backyard, and radiates out into every contact we have with our customers. This is not easy in today's climate of reorganization and downsizing. It's based on a trust and mutual respect that engender a shared loyalty. Without this, there will be no excellence in customer service.

Of the three directions for internal service, we want to focus on the second: service between employees. Here's what we need to ask ourselves:

1. Who is our Internal Customer? ( the Market)
2. What do they need from us? ( the Factors)
3. How do we surpass their expectations? ( the Objectives)
4. How will we show constant improvement? ( the Measures)
5. How will we celebrate exceeding targets? ( the Rewards)

An example may help. The Payroll department has every employee as their customer. Employees expect paychecks deposited or delivered on time, error free, and with changes processed quickly and accurately. Payroll can meet our expectations by doing these things flawlessly (and each can be measured and reported). They can exceed our expectations by adding features we don't expect, like the amount of FICA remaining until fully paid for the year, or total 401(k) withheld since joining. Now for the improvement part: Payroll could use a biannual employee satisfaction survey that shows our Internal Satisfaction Index, or ISI. They can then set an objective for a percent improvement to achieve in their ISI and tie annual bonuses and merit increases to it. That's putting internal service on the line. And it becomes Payroll's internal service warranty.

This applies equally well to other groups such as Human Resources, Legal, Sales Administration, IT, MIS, Development, Billing, Finance, Training and the Executive department. Think about it. If all the so-called staff groups doubled the level of service to their internal customers, how much more could the rest of us provide service to our paying customers. And what an example they'd set for us!
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