Customer service Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing’s Critical Connections (Part 3)

So far this posting series has focused on connecting employees to their organizations as well as within their organizations.  This week I’ll address the last of Internal Marketing’s Critical Connections — connecting employees with customers.

Customer-Focus is Key

It’s no secret that customers judge an organization and its brand by how well they’re treated by everyone in the organization they come in contact with.  When asked why consumers switched companies, one study found that nearly 70% left because they felt the attention they got from the company was poor or they hardly got any attention at all!

Connecting employees with customers — ensuring employees are customer-focused — is a key component of internal marketing.

What does being customer-focused really mean?

It’s understanding your customers (including knowing who they are and what they want from your company), and it’s being attentive and responsive to their needs.  To achieve even a basic level of customer-focus, employees need to be educated about your customers.  They need to know:

  • Who your customers are
  • Why they come to your organization in the first place
  • How they feel about your organization — from customer complaints, feedback, and satisfaction surveys.  (See Pop Quiz: Customers 101.)

The more your employees know about your customers, they better they can serve them.  So don’t forget to get employee input on how to improve customer satisfaction.

Here’s a thought-provoking starter question you can use in staff meetings.  Ask employees: If you were head of this organization, what are the three things you would do to improve customer service or satisfaction?

Some other ways to connect employees with customers:

  • Host an “Open House” where you invite customers to your place of business to meet & mingle with staff.  I remember hearing about a small company that would host small groups of clients on Friday afternoons (tied-in with the firm’s casual day) for a social hour.
  • On a much larger scale, General Motors Saturn car division hosts an annual get together of Saturn car owners.
  • One of my favorite examples is QuadGraphics, a Wisconsin-based printing firm that hosts a three-day “camp” where customers attend educational seminars and fun events to learn about printing processes… they also learn more about the company and connect with its staff.
  • At some catalog companies, employees will “mystery shop” the competition.  They actually shop their competitors to learn what it’s like to call & place an order (either by phone or online), check out merchandise quality, or see what’s involved in handling a return.  The value of this exercise (where appropriate & applicable) is that employees develop empathy for the customer experience + gain insight on how to improve their company’s own operations.

These internal marketing tools can be used with all employees, not just those with customer contact.  But non-contact staff pose a unique challenge — in what additional ways can you connect them to customers?

I’ll cover that in the last post of this series.

Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing’s Critical Connections (Part 2 – continued)

Building relationships among employees throughout the workplace enables them to feel connected within the organization.  Communication is a key ingredient in this process – sharing information within and across departmental silos to let people know what others are doing in the organization to help it move forward.

Trading Places

Role switching is another effective way to build internal relationships and appreciation for other employees. 

  • UPS sales reps accompany drivers on delivery runs, and drivers will go out on sales calls with the reps.  Sales reps gain appreciation on the experience of package delivery (and brand promise fulfillment), while drivers gain insight on what new accounts are looking for (including what it takes to land a new account).
  • Once a year, corporate employees from Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar work a shift at one of their restaurants.
  • I don’t know if they still do this, but Hyatt Hotels used to observe an “In Touch” Day where corporate staff went into the field to work in one of their hotel facilities – working alongside housekeeping, bell staff, catering, check-in or check-out.

The value of these programs is that they help build empathy for other staff, reinforcing teamwork and a sense of common purpose.  The combination of any such initiative to create a sense of appreciation and respect among co-workers, along with internal communications, helps strengthen employee relationships.  That’s what connecting employees within their organizations is all about.

Coming soon: the last in this series of Internal Marketing’s Critical Connections — connecting employees with customers.

Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing’s Critical Connections (Part 2)

Ever notice the natural divisions that occur in organizations?  I’ve seen this in every industry I’ve worked with; e.g., in financial services, it’s the branches vs. operations.  In higher education, it’s faculty vs. administration. In advertising, it’s the creatives vs. the agency’s business “suits.”

Doesn’t matter whether it’s manufacturing vs. sales … or sales vs. marketing … or marketing vs. engineering … there always seems to be an “us” vs. “them” mentality in organizations.  So how can employees effectively serve customers when they’re fighting internal turf battles?

Bridging the Great Divide

Everyone needs to understand where they & their colleagues fit in the scope of the organization and how working together, they can help an organization achieve its goals.  (This was addressed in my April 11th and 14th posts about connecting employees to their organizations through orientation & communication).

To bridge the internal divides, employees also need to feel connected within their organizations.  This involves building relationships with others in the organization so that everyone is on “the same page.”  Here again, communication plays a critical role in bridging the connection:

    • Open up staff meetings – invite reps from other areas of the organization to attend department meetings so they know what’s going on & can share what they’re doing.  This is especially important when departmental initiatives impact others’ work.
    • Showcase what a department or division does & how its work is important to the organization.  You can hold an “open house” type event or spotlight the department in print (e.g., in employee newsletter or intranet).
    • Southwest Missouri State University senior administrator, Greg Burris, launched an ‘ambassador’ program modeled after community leadership-type programs.  Groups of employees engaged in learning about the different facets of the school to improve cross-campus communications and, ultimately, customer service.
    • In his book The Customer Comes Second, Hal Rosenbluth, suggests management can also create cohesion by basing leaders’ compensation primarily on overall organizational performance, instead of relying on individual performance and fostering inter-departmental competition.
Building relationships with others in organization won’t preclude internal squabbles — there will always be internal politics — but it can help minimize them and get everyone working together to move the organization forward.
I’ll have additional ideas on how to strengthen relationships within the organization, so stay tuned for my next post.
Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing’s Critical Connections (Part 1-continued)

As part of my new series on internal marketing’s critical connections, my last post covered new staff orientation as a way to connect employees to the organization.  Now we’ll look at what happens next.

After Orientation – Communication

Orientation is great for focusing attention on the new hires.  But what about the employees who have been around for a while?  When do they get to be reminded of their fit in and contribution to the organization?  Unfortunately in a lot of companies, this may only occur once a year at performance review time … and we know how much people look forward to that process!

This is where constant communication plays a major role.  Through top-down communications — from the executive level to the front-line — managers & supervisors need to share three important types of information:

  • What is happening within the organization and where it is going
  • What is the employee’s role & what is expected of the person in the process
  • Feedback on how everyone is doing – individually and collectively.

There are lots of internal communications vehicles for this:

  • Staff meetings
  • Internal memos & newsletters (print and/or electronic)
  • All-employee forums such as town-hall type meetings or video conferences
  • Special events such as employee appreciation programs, staff dinners/picnics.

Keeping Focused

Given the hectic pace of today’s workplace, it’s easy to lose sight of the “big picture” especially when people are so busy putting out the latest fires.  That’s why reinforcing the message is so critical — when employees feel a strong connection to their organization, when they know why they’re there & what they need to do, they’re more easily engaged.

My next post will continue this series and address how to strengthen employee connections within an organization.

Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Internal Marketing’s Critical Connections (Part 1)

Internal marketing’s focus on valuing both customers and the employees who serve them requires strengthening three critical connections:

  • Connecting the employee to the organization
  • Connecting the employee within the organization
  • Connecting employees with customers.

This post begins a series on each connection, starting with connecting employees to their organization through orientation (for new employees) and constant communication (for all employees).  This establishes and reinforces employees’ fit in the scope of the organization (“big picture”) and what’s expected of them in helping the organization fulfill its mission & goals.

Becoming a Part of the Organization

Orientation’s role is to educate the new employee about:

  • The organization – its mission, values, goals, how it operates, where it’s going, etc. 
  • The specific job function – answering the employee’s questions on “What do I do & how do I do it? How will I be evaluated?” etc.
  • The industry in general – this is important for giving new employees a broader perspective by addressing how the organization is positioned within its industry; who its partners and competitor are; and trends (positive or threatening) that can impact the organization and its industry. (Unfortunately, this component of orientation – connecting employees to the “big picture” –  is often ignored.)

Starting off right

Starbucks‘ CEO Howard Schultz greets all new hires via video in which he shares the company’s history & culture, what it stands for, and where it’s going … he refers to this critical time as the “imprinting period of the new employee.”

Eat’nPark, a Pittsburgh-based restaurant chain, focuses on making new employees feel truly welcome.  Before a new hire starts in one of their restaurants, the manager circulates a “Welcome to the Team” card to be signed by staff.  This card includes a post-it note with brief information about the new team member – the person’s name, job position, and a fun-fact about the person’s hobbies or interests.  The welcome card works on several levels: it makes the new person feel welcome, facilitates communication between the new hire and current staff, and helps minimize some of the initial awkwardness of everyone getting to know each other.


Evaluating Orientation

After new employees complete their orientation, don’t forget to get their feedback in formal or informal evaluations.  A great question to ask employees after they’ve been on the job for a period of time (six weeks, three months, or longer) is “What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?”

To be continued: my next post will address the communications aspect of this connection.

Engagement Marketing

Treating Customers Like Employees & Vice Versa

The scene: I’m an Executive Visitor at the Iacocca Institute’s Global Village, a special international program for up-and-coming leaders.

The topic:  Marketing — an open discussion that ranges from dealing with difficult customers (yes, it’s OK to  terminate a relationship with customers when there’s no longer a good fit between them & the company; that’s what ING Direct does with customers who use too much customer service) … to internal marketing (how managers can apply marketing to effectively communicate with, educate & motivate employees to deliver on the brand promise).

The question: “Excuse me, but I think you have it backwards. You talk about ‘firing’ customers as if they are employees, and you also talk about marketing to employees as if they are customers? How can this be?”

[An excellent question … and one that takes me somewhat by surprise because I’d never thought of it that way before.] The answer is not so simple, or is it?  What’s the different between customers and employees?

My response: Let’s see – customers pay for your goods/services, which means they contribute the revenue that’s used to pay employee salaries. No customers =  no operating income = no business = no employees. On the other hand, without employees to produce & deliver your goods/services, there’s nothing to offer customers. No employees = no business to compete in the market = no customers.

The bottom line is the organization depends on both groups. As such, it needs to develop positive and loyal relationships with its employees AND customers. So the marketing and management strategies aren’t that different when you consider an organization needs to attract and retain the right employees (who are competent and capable) to establish and retain relationships with the right customers (whose needs will be best and profitably served by the organization).

The take-away: Yes, you can market to employees and you can manage customers … done effectively, you’ll have the best of both serving as brand ambassadors.


Customer service Engagement Marketing

Employee Satisfaction: Happiness Pays

“Dispirited, unmotivated, unappreciated workers cannot compete in a highly competitive world.”  It’s one of my favorite quotes from nonprofit leader Frances Hesselbein, and it’s an important reminder for all organizations.

To all those reading this blog: how many people do you know who are truly happy in their workplace?  Most of my friends in this situation are the ones who are self-employed; i.e., spared the BS of inane office politics and the incompetents in charge.  (As I’ve explained to friends & family over the years, the reason I’m happily self-employed is because I work for someone I respect.)

Why should management care about how its people feel?  The benefits of a positive workplace go beyond the warm & fuzzy directly to the bottom line.  According to the Customer Loyalty Research Center, which specializes in measuring both employee and customer satisfaction & loyalty, employees who have better relationships with their companies are more likely to:

  • Stay with the company, reducing turnover costs.  (You want sticker shock? Ask Human Resources what this really costs.)
  • Recommend the company to other potential employees, reducing search expense (which also makes HR folks happy)
  • Be more productive on the job
  • Provide higher service levels, ultimately increasing customer satisfaction & loyalty (which should make everyone happy).

What does the Customer Loyalty Research Center use to measure employee satisfaction & loyalty? They look at variables that contribute to overall job satisfaction including:

  • Relationships with managers and co-workers
  • Customer-focus
  • Organizational improvement
  • Rewards & recognition
  • Communication.

How do you tell if your organization needs to get serious about employee satisfaction?  Here’s the magic question — just ask employees “Would you refer a friend to work here?”  It’s a loaded question, but one that will give you tremendous insight into your organization.

Customer service Engagement Marketing

Customer Service for Nonprofits: Can You Hear Me Now?

To membership-based nonprofits, listen up: the concept of the customer experience also applies to you!


Here’s the situation: about a year ago I joined an organization that serves leaders in the nonprofit field with offerings that include information & idea-exchange, e-newsletter, discounted publications, annual conference, etc. But I decided not to renew my membership since I hadn’t gotten much out of it. It was only when working on my budget for memberships that I even realized they never sent me a renewal notice.) I also realized I never received the quarterly journal promised in their new member material, and they were unresponsive when I e-mailed them with a question about one of their events.


Welcome Back!?

So I was surprised when I got a letter telling me my membership was extended for one year. I e-mailed them asking why — given my service to the nonprofit field as a professional advisor/facilitator as well as a volunteer leader, I was just a bit curious. Was it a matter of member service recovery? Or did the organization have such a great year they decided to “share the wealth” with their members?

Guess what? No response (surprise, surprise). So I sent a letter with a copy of my earlier e-mail to the organization’s Board Chair, a well-known & highly respected leader. This time I got a response (while it wasn’t directly from the Chair, at least I got through to someone). I received a phone call and letter from the staff apologizing for the situation (which was acceptable) and offering an explanation based on insufficient staffing, mis-communication with the members, etc. (which I found lame).

There’s no excuse for this treatment of members, especially given the prestigious founders & supporters of this particular organization. (Sorry, I know the power that dissatisfied customers have in spreading negative word-of-mouth and the more current “word-of-mouse,” but I’m reluctant to divulge the name of this group).

Acquisition Without Retention = Leaky Bucket

Membership-based organizations, no matter how well-intentioned their missions, won’t survive without members. They have to pay attention to the “customer” experience, and I’m not talking about anything complicated here — just the basics of being responsive to members, answering their concerns in a timely manner, communicating effectively to manage member expectations, and delivering what was promised. 

When it comes to member/customer satisfaction, this is Customer Service 101. My friend Mike McDermott and his colleague, Arlene Farber Sirkin, wrote a great book on this entitled “Keeping Members”, published by the ASAE (American Society of Association Executives (Foundation).

What’s surprising and disappointing is that there are member-based organizations out there who still don’t get it. Trust me, they won’t get my membership either.

Customer service Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing Fundamentals – Gaining Employee Commitment (Part 3 of 3)

Welcome to the last in this series on the 3 Rs of gaining employee commitment as the foundation of internal marketing:

  • Respect – give people the tools to do their jobs [see post 3-14-05]
  • Recognition – catch them doing something right [see last post]
  • Reinforcement – continually support a customer-focused culture.

3rd R: Reinforcement

This involves supporting the importance of customer-care in both word & deed.  Consider the opportunities you have to share this message in verbal, print, and electronic communications — internal memos, staff meetings, intranet, special events, etc.  For example, you can publish success stories of staff who go “above & beyond” when it comes to taking care of customers, recognizing employees as roles models or organizational heroes.

Unlikely media

Financial services giant MBNA has the words “Think like the customer” printed above the doorways in its offices to reinforce customer empathy.

QVC, the shopping channel, has an expression of its values inlaid in the floor of its headquarters: “Customer focus: exceeding the expectations of every customer.”

And a growing number of companies now include their mission statements and/or corporate values on the back of employee ID badges.

Special events

You can also reinforce customer importance through customer appreciation-type events.  Such activities aren’t limited to for-profits — the U.S. Census Bureau celebrates Customer Service Week each October.  Census Bureau marketing staff & employee committees explore creative ways to honor the Customer Service Week event with special activities.  For example, field offices participate by creating customer-focused displays that are peer-judged on the Bureau’s intranet.  Customer Service Week program books are published & distributed featuring service success stories submitted by customers and staff.

It just keeps going & going …

Organizations that successfully cultivate a customer-focused culture know it takes continual effort beyond just using internal media or special events.  It also means management’s actions need to be consistent with its customer-focused message, whether on a daily basis or during extraordinary times.


How does your organization reinforce a customer-focused culture?  Let me know.

Gaining & maintaining employee commitment to serving customers involves an ongoing demonstration of respecting employees, recognizing their efforts, and continually reinforcement a customer-care orientation.  This is the foundation of internal marketing.

Engagement Marketing

Internal Marketing Fundamentals – Gaining Employee Commitment (Part 2 of 3)

This post continues the series on the 3Rs of gaining employee commitment as the foundation of internal marketing:

  • Respect – give people the tools to do their jobs [see the last post]
  • Recognition – catch them doing something right
  • Reinforcement – continually support a customer-focused culture.

2nd R: Recognition

Catch people doing something right  — like going the extra mile for customers & other employees (aka “internal customers”) — so they can continue doing the right stuff.

Recognition is a critical means of making people feel valued.

Unfortunately, it’s not always applied that way.  Positive reinforcement in the workplace is usually a lack of negative reinforcement — meaning you’re more likely to get a slap-on-the-wrist for doing something wrong than a pat-on-the-back for a job well done.  We’re downright stingy when it comes to praise.

A Gallup poll found 65% of Americans received no recognition in the workplace.  So is it any wonder that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated?

It won’t break the bank

Recognition need not cost much; a simple, sincere acknowledgment can go a long way.  Motivational guru Bob Nelson suggests the things that are motivating to employees tend to be relatively easy & inexpensive: personal recognition (“atta boy!”), a written thank you, or public praise.

Make it fun

If you have a little bit of money, you can send flowers, balloons or special gift to deserving employees.  Spring for pizza or send a goody basket filled with food, and you’re like to start a feeding frenzy!  (Face it: food can be the ultimate motivator in an office setting.)

The Lesson of the Golden Pineapple

One of my favorite examples of the power of recognition comes from Bob Wood, EVP, Sodexho, when he was Chairman of Wood Dining Services.  Bob spent nearly 70% of his time in the field visiting clients & staff.  And when he saw an employee doing something right, he would hand them a small, gold pineapple pin that he carried in his pocket.  (Pineapple is the international symbol for hospitality and was part of the Wood Company’s logo at the time.)

In an interview I did with Bob several years ago, he told me he never ceased to be amazed at employee reaction when he gave out the pineapple pins.

“I think these pins cost 47 cents … but these people think you gave them a pile of gold.  Everyone wants to be part of something … everyone wants to feel that they are valued, that they made a difference.  To the degree we can celebrate our people, that’s our greatest tool.”


How are employees recognized in your organization?  I’d love to hear your experience on what works or what doesn’t regarding employee recognition.

Coming up next, the last in this series — the 3rd R: Reinforcement.