Treat Your Employees Like Customers to Improve Efficiency, Culture, and Your Bottom Line

Treat Your Employees Like Customers to Improve Efficiency, Culture, and Your Bottom Line

We all know about the internal customer. That’s the person inside the company or organization that you have to sell your project or new product idea to. For instance, if you’re a marketing person and you have a grand idea for a new campaign, you have to sell that idea to the person who can say, Go. Depending on company size that might be the VP of marketing, or you may have to go straight to the top and talk to the President. Let’s say the President loves your idea. but she needs to run it by her conservative bean counter – the one who always scowls at any new expenses – to see if he recommends shifting funds from another area. Then IT needs to make changes to the site. And the receptionist, who hates change, needs to learn to answer the phone differently…

Regardless of the size of your company, everyone is the internal customer of at least some of their colleagues most of the time. And all of their colleagues some of the time. That’s because a company runs on people providing services to one another in order to make sure that things get done for those external customers.

So what if we took this one step farther? What if we said that everyone in your company is everyone else’s customer?  And that it follows that everyone in your company is also a salesperson, that everyone sells something – an idea, a process, an action – to everyone all the time. In short, everyone in your company is a customer.

What would it mean to your company to apply the rules of customer service internally?

What Is a Customer?

Put in the simplest terms, a customer is someone that we want to do something. Think about it. You want your customer to buy the products or services you provide. And when we want someone to do something how do we treat them? Nicely. We treat them as we would want to be treated – or maybe a tad better. That’s because they are human beings. Who just happen to have a certain relationship with us for the moment. We’re selling. They’re buying.

We say please and thank you to our customers. We smile. We know that they are not always right but that they are always the customer, so we don’t get upset with them when they don’t do what we want. Instead, we try our best to align values and then gently redirect them – or we humbly accept that they simply don’t want what we’re selling and say a gracious, “See you next time.” If they rant we listen for the problem behind the anger so that we can help resolve the issue as soon as the storm clears.

In short, we help them, and in doing so we create the thing that’s far more important than the sale at hand. We create good, long lasting relationships.

Why Everyone’s Job Description Should Be Internal Customer Service

The one thing we never say to our customers is this: “It’s in your job description to buy, so do your job!” We don’t say that because they will walk away and tell a dozen people that we’re nasty. But sometimes we say this to our employees, and employees sometimes even say this fellow employees. That’s because its far more difficult for employees to walk away. So they usually comply and “do their job,” but this way of getting people to do things works poorly in the long run.

The problem with everyone just doing their job is that if everyone followed their job description to the letter most companies would grind to a halt. That’s because companies work best when everyone goes the extra mile, when people help each other out, whether or not it’s in their job description. And if people are told to just do their job enough they won’t do those extras.

Worse yet, employees who are not treated nicely are more likely to treat customers poorly.

There are a couple reasons for this. One, authentic smiles come from within, from feeling good, but mistreated employees don’t feel good. So they may smile dutifully, but the inner frown shows. Two, driving customers away from the company that mistreats them is a form of revenge. (Who among us has not met the disgruntled employee who openly disses their company?) Either way, there is a direct line between treating an employee rudely and finding a rude surprise in our bottom line.

Many enlightened companies educate their employees to understand that they are all customer service helpers, regardless of their other duties. Now we need to turn that effort inward and treat all employees as internal customer helpers. In fact, we need to treat employees as our most valued and loyal customers. And that, as with all things business, starts at the top. Because how leaders treat employees tends to be how employees treat each other, and how they treat customers.

Appreciate Appreciation – Your company’s Value Will Appreciate

Money isn’t everything. In fact, when employees are paid salaries that they perceive as fair and adequate, money isn’t even a thing. But being noticed and appreciated is. Globoforce research found that 78% of workers said “they would work harder if their efforts were better recognized and appreciated”. Employees working harder would certainly  have a direct, positive effect on your bottom line. So, since one of the jobs of top management is to increase the bottom line, it would make sense that your role as president or manager prioritizes recognizing your employees’ efforts, and simply appreciating them. It doesn’t cost money; it makes money. That’s because every good job and thank you that you say is like giving a raise…in spirits.

Appreciated workers are happier workers. Happiness is a value in itself, but what are the effects of happy workers on your company’s performance? A University of Warwick study found that happiness results in a 12 percent spike in employee productivity. The study also found that unhappy workers were 10 percent less productive than the average. Doing the math, that’s a 22 point spread between happy and unhappy workers. And you can gain it all by noticing what your employees are doing, and recognizing them for it.

Cost: zero. Benefit: 22% productivity gain. That must be the easiest and most cost effective productivity gain process improvement in existence. 

Top Down Caring Equals Bottom Line Performance Plus a Pleasant Company

Funny. Robert Fulghum really was right: we did learn everything we needed to know in kindergarten. Don’t be rude. Ask nicely. Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone. Say thank you when someone does something for you. And appreciate people. Starting with your employees. Because doing so kicks off a virtuous cycle, in which employees treat each other better, and everyone treats your customers better. There are other benefits that can be tracked by bean counting: for instance, happier employees stay longer, which lessens the significant costs of excessive turnover.

One of the biggest benefits of treating your employees like valued customers, however, is not quantifiable, though it is very palpable. It’s the joy you feel in creating a company where people are enjoying themselves. That’s simply a better way to live, and it will make you happier, too.