Customer service Engagement

Internal vs. External Customers: Who Comes First?

In many organizations there are employees who not only serve customers, they ARE customers.

These “internal” customers are employees who rely on the information and resources provided by fellow employees who work in support functions such purchasing, HR, accounting, IT/information, etc. The level of quality service and support that “internal” customers receive from them impacts their ability to effectively serve a firm’s “external” customers.

Players on the same team?
Consider this statement from a colleague in a customer-contact position who described the response her department received when requesting assistance from support employees in the organization’s parent company: “Sometimes we’re mildly ignored, and other times we’re barely tolerated or just dismissed.” Imagine the frustration she and her team experienced trying to do their jobs.

When internal customers have their business service needs taken care of by co-workers — getting prompt responses to questions and requested support — they can then take care of the company’s external customers. Conversely, when these employees get poor service that impedes their ability to effectively do their jobs, they make take out their frustrations on other employees as well as customers — all contributing to a less than satisfactory work environment.

So which customers come first?
The answer to this question is easy.

“Paradoxically, to achieve an emotionally connecting customer experience, employees come first, ahead of the customer.”  Tom Peters

It’s not that one group is more important than the other; both are critical to an organization’s success. The overarching reality is that the quality of the employee experience (that of all employees in supporting and/or internal customer roles) ultimately impacts the quality of the customer experience.

To paraphrase my often-cited quote: “If employees don’t feel valued, neither will customers – internal and external.”

[Feather/egg image by congerdesign from Pixabay. Chick image by Azkia A. Mardhiah from Pixabay]


Customer service Engagement

A Client-Inspired Wish

One of the most amazing clients I’ve had the privilege and joy of collaborating with for 25 years recently retired. I wish there were more managers like her because it would mean more engaged and productive workplaces. Let me tell you why.

Peg helped grow a successful university distance education department, having started at a time when distance education was in its infancy. She navigated the changing technology that transitioned from broadcasting live classes via satellite to online delivery of courses. [Because she isn’t comfortable with attention, I only use her first name in this post.]

To inspire others, here’s a sample of what made Peg an impressive manager.

Management approach
All jobs come with some degree of stress from conflicting goals, operational and budget issues, internal politics, etc. Acknowledging this, Peg approached her work as an ongoing challenge: “I simply focus on what needs to be done and how to make it happen. Not just to push ahead, but with concern for how it will affect customers, employees, and everyone involved.”

I saw this play out in everyday situations and in crisis. The latter was a case of “lost in space” when a satellite failed a few days before the start of a semester. Peg rallied her team to find workable options for students and client companies with minimal service disruption.

Customer-focus was another part of Peg’s success. Besides responsive customer service, she believed in client outreach and appreciation as key to building long-term relationships with students and their employers. “Our programs may be by distance, but not our relationships,” Peg was fond of saying.

Internal marketing 
Peg also focused on building relationships with employees and internal partners by:

  • investing in team members by encouraging their professional development
  • engaging employees in staff retreats for strategic planning, transition planning, and marketing planning
  • communicating and collaborating with faculty and staff to maximize program development
  • keeping employees, faculty, and administrators informed and “in the loop”
  • being accessible to and respectful of those she worked with.

Her sense of humor allowed staff to comfortably let off steam in a busy, sometimes stressful environment — another key attribute to creating an effective team and supportive office culture with minimal turnover.

I know my wish for more managers like Peg is not realistic, but I can wish for people to learn from her success.




“I know you work here, but who are you?”

That’s the message some people in executive and management positions send their employees. I’ve heard this many times, and here’s how it plays out.

New employees starting with a company are likely to receive a fair amount of attention through orientation and on-boarding. This attention wanes, however, the longer employees are on the job. From the employee’s perspective job descriptions fail to keep up with changes in job scope … top-down communications predominate while bottom-up feedback is not encouraged … staff meetings are considered a waste of time … and annual performance reviews become meaningless.

As a result of management and organizational complacency, employees feel invisible — a condition that leads to their disengaging on the job.

Here’s what several thought leaders say about this:

“When employees feel anonymous in the eyes of their managers, they simply cannot love their work, no matter how much money they make or how wonderful their jobs seem to be.”  Patrick Lencioni

“When people are perceived as a cost and not a resource, when they are treated as a liability and not an asset, when no one seems to know or care that they are there, they don’t work well, and they don’t stay.”  Dr. Judith M. Bardwick

“Don’t make your employees guess about whether they’re doing enough or fulfilling [the company’s] expectations … Make people feel like they are in the loop, and they’ll feel more engaged … ”  Alan E. Hall

“Once you start treating employees as more than a job description, suddenly they go, ‘Oh, wow! Maybe I should bring my whole self to work today!'”  John Boiler

Shortsighted executives and managers who continue to ignore employees put their business in jeopardy because the customer experience is embedded in the employee experience.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you might want to share a copy of this post with them — anonymously.


3 Questions that Determine Whether Employees Choose to Engage

Workplace engagement is a both a responsibility and choice shared by employees and employers:

  • Employees are responsible for their own engagement in that they choose to show up in their jobs ready, willing, and able to do their best work, and
  • Employers are responsible for choosing to foster an engaging workplace where employees are enabled to do their best work.

What drives an employee’s decision to be engaged at work is based on how that person answers these three questions:

  1. What’s in it for me besides a paycheck?
    This is a primary consideration that gets to the heart of why an employee chooses to stay with an employer based on the nature of the work involved, how meaningful it is, quality of organizational culture, and benefits.
  2. What difference do I make?
    Employees want to know how their efforts contribute to the organization’s mission and goals. This involves having a clear line-of-sight as to how their work impacts the people they serve (customers, clients, patients, members, guests, etc.) co-workers, stakeholders, the community where the organization is located, and the organization’s overall success. Think of the NASA janitor who wasn’t just cleaning floors — he was helping to put a man on the moon.
  3. Does my employer care about me and my work?
    Employees also want their employers to recognize and respect their roles within the organization and support them with the tools necessary to do the best job possible.

Takeaway questions for managers
What are you currently doing to positively or negatively impact your employees’ choice to stay engaged?

And what will you do about it?


5 Ways Nonprofits Can Effectively Engage Employees and Volunteers

“Mission matters. The people behind the mission also matter, and their passion for the mission can never be taken for granted.”  [from Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits.]                                       

This is why engaging staff members and volunteers involves special care beyond just a “recruit ‘em & recognize ‘em” approach.

How do nonprofit leaders and managers effectively attract, develop, and retain talent? They succeed by intentionally creating a positive workplace culture. Here’s how.

1. Learn about your employees and volunteers: who they are, their interest in serving your organization, and their expectations of working with you. Ask them:

  • What appealed to you to join our organization?
  • What inspires you most about being here?
  • What do you expect to give and get from serving as an employee or volunteer?
  • Would you recommend this organization to others?

Also conduct exit interviews with people who voluntarily leave your organization so you can learn more about their employee or volunteer experience.

2. Clarify and clearly communicate what your organization expects from its staff and volunteers and what they can expect from you. Be honest about what everyone’s commitment entails.

3. Provide the necessary tools and information people need to best serve your nonprofit. This includes orientation and training; sharing the mission, vision, strategic plans, and goals; program overviews and updates; etc. Also consider how operational or policy changes may impact staff and volunteer efforts, and communicate any changes and the rationale behind them in a timely manner.

4. Recognize and acknowledge your employees’ and volunteers’ value. While designated “holidays” like Employee Appreciation Day and National Volunteer Week provide an opportunity to celebrate the people who serve your organization, it’s important to let them know they’re appreciated throughout the year.

5. Proactively listen to your staff and volunteers – ask for their feedback and ideas – and respond appropriately.

Nonprofit employees and volunteers are precious resources. Treat them carefully and with the respect they deserve.


You’re in Trouble If You Love Your Job This Much

I found this in my “Smile” file and thought it worth sharing. It goes way beyond engagement (to say the least!) and will make you either laugh or cry – hopefully the former.

“I love my job, I love the pay!
I love it more and more each day.
I love my boss he is the best!
I love his boss and all the rest.

“I love my office and its location, I hate to have to go on vacation.
I love my furniture, drab and gray, and piles of paper that grow each day.
I think my job is really swell, there’s nothing else I love so well.
I love to work among my peers, I love their leers and jeers and sneers.
I love my computer and its software,
I hug it often though it won’t care.
I love each program and every file
I’d love them more if they worked a while.

“I am happy to be here. I am. I am.
I’m the happiest slave of the firm, I am.
I love this work, I love these chores.
I love the meetings with deadly bores.
I love my job – I’ll say it again – I even love those friendly men.
Those friendly men who’ve come today,
In clean white coats to take me away!!!”

– Anonymous



“Maniacal Operations” and Other Sad but True Tales

When it comes to management and organizational dysfunction, there’s little that surprises me anymore.

  • Asking a colleague about work, I got this description of the company’s new president: “I know all about his first marriage, his second marriage, his grandchildren, etc., but he doesn’t know anything about me. He dominates executive meetings with his talking but checks his cell phone when others are speaking.”
  • A participant in one of my recent workshops asked the group for ideas on how to help communicate the company’s top 20 strategic goals to employees.
  • A client told me she’s concerned about her daughter approaching job burnout. While the young woman loves her work, she’s trying to survive what she describes as a stressful environment of “maniacal operations.”

In an “ideal” world …

There’s so such thing. Here are more true office tales that may leave you shaking your head:

In the real world …

I’ve learned it’s healthier not to expend precious energy getting upset about such examples. It’s better to turn to people like Scott Adams (Dilbert creator), E. L. Kersten (Despair, Inc. founder), and Robert I. Sutton (author of The Asshole Survival Guide and The No Asshole Rule), who provide comic relief and guidance to help us cope with “maniacal operations” and other types of workplace absurdity.



Where You Lead From Makes a Difference

My recent post about Zoltan Merszei‘s message on organizational strategy included developing a “vision of what’s to come” as “the ultimate insurance of success.”

Articulating and sharing a well thought out vision certainly contributes to success, but it’s not enough. It also takes a leader who knows how to effectively engage and connect employees with the leader’s vision.

Professor Emeritus Stephen W. Brown, former director of Arizona State University’s Center for Services Leadership, describes this type of leader as one “who leads from the front, not the top.”

“Too often in traditional hierarchical organizations, the people who make the product never see the people ‘upstairs’ who manage. They can’t feel the passion of their leaders, understand their commitment to quality, or see their dreams for excellence because they’re not visible.”

I experienced such a leader earlier in my career. In my first job with a regional bank, the president, who came from outside the community, led from the top. He maintained an office on the sixth floor of the main headquarters/branch and was rarely seen by front line and operational employees. His contact with corporate customers took place mainly in executive offices and country clubs.

So it was culture shock for me when I changed employers to work at another regional bank whose president was much more visible. His office was on the second floor of the bank’s HQs, just off the escalator from the main branch lobby, where he was accessible to all customers and employees. He was also a major presence at all-employee meetings and social events. As a former teller who worked his way up to become bank president, he loved the bank, and his passion for the bank’s brand was contagious. This was an executive who led from the front.

You might think that the difference between these two CEO’s backgrounds — outsider vs. insider — might account for their different leadership styles. That was my thinking until I moved to a third regional bank where the president also had started as a teller, yet he led from the top. So being “home-grown” wasn’t the common denominator for leadership style.

All three CEO’s were professional and respected; all three banks were successful. Among all the banks, the most engaged and engaging corporate culture belonged to the second bank. It was also the most exhilarating and satisfying organization I ever worked in — all because I was caught up in the vision and success of a CEO and management team who led from the front.



“Protect People From Too Much Organization”

The yellowing, decades-old piece of paper I found in my files featured this striking advice from Zoltan Merszei, former executive at Occidental Petroleum Corporation and Dow Chemical Company. Merszei wrote it “as a reminder that we need to protect people from too much organization, while never destroying the organization itself.” His message is still relevant:

  1. Always have too few people. Always.
  2. Judge people carefully; if you choose well, everything becomes easier.
  3. Seek changes in business; don’t just accept change.
  4. Make sure decision making is centered where the action is.
  5. Remember that organization follows ability, not the other way around.
  6. Fit your organization to people, not people to the organization.
  7. Learn from the past, but invest in the future.
  8. Don’t just accept responsibility — usurp it.
  9. Don’t hope for excellence — demand it, of yourself and others.
  10. Develop a vision of what’s to come in this world. That’s your ultimate insurance of success.
    — reprinted from the March-April 1980 newsletter, “Oxy: The Occidental Report.”

So much has changed in business since it was written, and yet so much hasn’t. Effectively managing people and the organization they support continues to be a challenge.


Engagement Training & Development

Can You Afford to Fuel Employee Burnout?

[Note: This post first appeared on myHR Blog and is shared with permission from Tina Hamilton, PHR, founder of myHRPartner, an HR outsourcing firm. Tina is a well-respected business professional who is frequently quoted in the national media on HR-related issues in the workplace, and I’m proud to know her as a colleague and friend. To learn more about her work, please visit myHRPartner.]

Is employee burnout hurting your bottom line? via myHR Blog

Just like a broken down car, a burned out workforce will not take your business where it needs to go. And as much as some people would like to paint employee burnout as completely based in personal issues, it is more often than not a sign of serious organizational problems within a company.

What’s more, employers who don’t recognize and correct the kinds of workplace problems that lead to burnout risk hurting their company’s bottom line. Things like very heavy workloads, feelings of job insecurity, frustrations with massive amounts of meetings and impossible deadlines fraught with roadblocks create a toxic workplace environment where employees feel frustrated and stressed out.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, employee burnout costs an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in American healthcare spending on psychological and physical problems it causes each year. But the real cost to businesses can be far greater because of issues such as low productivity and high turnover rates as great employees leave toxic environments for greener pastures.

When Harvard Business Review looked inside companies with high burnout rates, they found these common problems:

We saw three common culprits: excessive collaboration, weak time management disciplines, and a tendency to overload the most capable with too much work. These forces not only rob employees of time to concentrate on completing complex tasks or for idea generation, they also crunch the downtime that is necessary for restoration.

Excessive collaboration may prevent progress

Poor time management practices and overloading top performers are issues that are fairly obvious causes of employee burnout. Excessive collaboration, on the other hand, may seem counter-intuitive on its face. The article explains that this situation arises when teams have too many decision makers and too many decision-making steps. “This can happen in companies that really do mean well,” says Tina Hamilton, PHR, myHR Partner president. Going overboard on collaboration often leads to a cycle of endless meetings, hordes of emails and scheduling nightmares—all without significantly moving a project forward. “Stress can lead to personality clashes and get in the way of pragmatic, timely decision making and progress. You can see how this can lead to burnout.”

This being said, collaboration itself—when done right—is often a great thing for work teams. Hamilton recommends having a clear strategy and sensible team organization before collaborative projects begin in order to decrease frustration and to keep things from getting bogged down with meetings, emails and red tape.

Other causes of employee burnout mentioned in the article include:

  • The new “always-on digital workplace”
  • Constant multitasking that leads to exhaustion and lack of focus on any one task
  • Rigid approaches to team objectives that do not allow for re-prioritizing when new tasks are added or outside situations change
  • Managers who do not know how much time employees spend on activities, meetings, etc.
  • Lack of tools and training for employees to handle tasks
  • A corporate culture in which overwork is expected or celebrated
  • A sense of lost autonomy among employees.

As we have blogged about in the past, the danger of overworking employees is real. They will feel disrespected or unappreciated, and they won’t stay—especially if they are talented. As an HR outsourcing company that often helps clients avoid expensive, time-sucking high employee turnover rates, we can tell you burnout will burn your company. It’s just a matter of time.