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
CHIEF EXECUTIVE
 HANKER INSTITUTE
 P. O. Box DS 2134
 Dansoman Estates
Accra
_++233-24-3065555_