The following story was narrated by a high-flying business professional at a sales seminar I was
facilitating and I believe it is the sort of story many readers will identify with. This busy
businesswoman, who is based in Kumasi, had come to Accra for a meeting and had to get to
back for another meeting in the Garden City. She went to the offices of one of the nation’s
internal flight operators to inquire about a flight back home. She went to particular company
because; as she puts it “she was a regular customer there”. On reaching there she was
informed by a front desk official that there was no flight for the period she had inquired about
due to some technical issues.
Feeling quite frustrated she got into a conversation with this official about why this incidences
had become so frequent with that particular local airline. What followed was a shock to even
her, the frustrated customer. Much to her utter disbelief, the employee of the company,
instead of professionally explaining the situation that was causing the “no show”, decided to
“go to town” on her own employers. This official started narrating how management were
mismanaging affairs, how things were not going well for both staff and customers and how
management refuses to take advice from anyone.
How could an employee go out of her way to do so much ‘bashing’ to her own employers and
not only that but in front of a valuable customer? Isn’t this much like spitting into the river that
you drink from? Our business lady said she was so taken aback that she politely excused herself
and left to another local airline company where she managed to get a flight home. I asked
whether she had ever used that airline again, and the answer was a BIG NO!! One valuable
customer gone with the wind! That is the danger of the unsatisfied internal customer.
As companies continue to find ways of better satisfying their customers in order to gain an
advantage over the competition, the importance of developing long term, loyal relationships
with customers has become more crucial. It would not be an exaggeration to state that every
business manager knows that loyal customers hold the key to a long-lasting and profitable
business venture. Loyal customers have tend to buy more, buy more often, try new products
more easily, refer more and even help cuts down a company’s advertising costs.
With the importance of the customer settled, the question that one should ask is: Who are
these customers? Are they only those who come in with their money to do business with us?
What about those we refer to as workers, or employees? If we define a customer as anyone
who helps a business achieve its aim, then we need to think of employees as “internal
customers.” If business owners or managers begin to reason in this direction, I believe incidents
like the one narrated at the opening will be minimised, if not eliminated entirely.
In my estimation the first law of customer loyalty reads as such: Keep your employees happy,
because the way you treat your employees is the same way they will treat your customers.
Human beings, like all of God’s creations, abhor imbalance. Therefore when a superior
unbalances an employee with some unkind remark or anything that does not go down too well
for that person, the person is sure to transfer that feeling to someone or something to regain
his or her initial balance. This case is even more serious if the employee is someone who meets
customers on a regular basis like salespeople, client advisors, receptionists, doormen/women,
waiters/waitresses, bank tellers, etc. These are people who are engaged in the business of
transference of feeling, therefore whatever feeling they have at the time they encounter the
external customer is what they would transfer.
As a starting point business owners or managers must create a favourable environment where
staffs feel valued and good about coming to work everyday. I have heard of companies where
people feel threatened every morning as they drive through the gates. How can such a
displeased ‘internal customer’ create a pleasurable experience for the external customer? Such
workers do not deliver that level of service that builds true customer loyalty. It is a risk to ask
workers to care about customers if they themselves do not feel cared about.
Creating an environment where both customers and employees want to pledge their loyalty is
not an easy venture but it is doable one. It takes a concerted effort on the part of all
stakeholders, but most especially management, to ensure that employee grievances and
complaints are solved before they are ‘unleashed’ on us, the ‘poor’ customers.
If management really wants staff to provide that level of care to customers that engender long
term relationships, there is the need to provide a corresponding level of care to staff that
motivates them and makes them feel appreciated. Companies that have satisfied internal
customers are those in which employees are viewed as management’s customers.
Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame had a habit of visiting each of his stores at least once a year to
experience firsthand what was happening on the frontlines as well as the views of his
employees. Guess what he called his employees. Associates! Now, that is giving exceptional
internal customer care. No wonder Wal-Mart was able to fight against giants like Sears.
Departments must also be encouraged to view other departments, not as competitors, but as
internal customers who need exceptional service, much as the external customers.
How does a company like the airline our ‘hero’ in the opening vignette works for go about
changing this destructive pattern of its staff? One step, among the several, is to revolutionize
the mindset of staff. Highly professional internal customers know that no matter what ‘crime’
management has committed, as professionals they have an obligation to “keep the valve on the
cylinder and let off the steam at the appropriate time and place.” However, not all staff
members can be that professional. The unprofessional ones must be made professional.
Some companies adopt a strategy of providing all their team members with a written script
which they have to memorize and to repeat the process with every customer. Although some
business people have criticised this strategy due to its artificiality, it, in the very least, ensures
that customers are provided with a standardised service.
Through the creation of open and honest communication channels and by regular training in
the area of internal and external customer care practices and trends, companies have been able
to overcome incidences like the one above and gone on to deliver excellent services from
satisfied internal customers to highly satisfied external customers.
By: J. N. HALM
P. O. Box DS 2134