Hot Topics:

Customer Service: Satisfying the Internal Customer

What I learned working at the library, Part 3.

In the first two parts of this series on customer service, we looked at ways you can support and help your customers, doing whatever you reasonably can to make and keep them happy. This time we’re turning inward to look at how you can keep your “internal customers” satisfied.

You may be asking, “Internal customers?” Let us explain.

Whoever works with you to make your business a success is an internal customer. For example, my co-workers in the children’s department of the library are my internal customers. Our jobs are wonderful, but—you may be surprised to learn—also more than a little stressful.

Unsure about that? OK, imagine yourself standing up in front of 62 preschoolers and 47 parents to read, sing and lead them in activities for 30 minutes! It’s the kind of job you either love or you don’t do.

Yours must often feel the same. To keep everyone productive, our staff often steps in and helps support one another. If, for example, one of us isn’t feeling quite up to par, another will volunteer to take story time in her stead or serve his public service time on the reference desk. It’s almost the way a family bonds together for the common good.

Now, we know your business is very likely a part of your home. You may have employees, or you may not. Your family may help you, or you may go it alone, but the fact that home and business are so closely tied only makes it more important that you take care of those who share your work life with you, the way we take care of each other at the library. Here are some proven strategies to help you keep everyone happy.

You’re also sending the message that you care for the human as much as you care for the work the human produces

Volunteer for the grunt work

Many e-commerce merchants first hire someone to handle shipping. That is clearly not the most dynamic and interesting part of the operation, but it is vitally important to the success of your business. Others may choose to hire someone to do the photography as well.

You’re not likely to turn over the best parts of your job to someone who may be working part time for you. Still, every once in a while, take a few hours and do the job you’ve hired someone else to do. Let your employee spend that time researching listings, learning more about your products, or helping you with a less routine task. This will help your staff know you value their growth along with the work they produce.

You may find that this person who routinely packs and labels your merchandise, given the chance to stretch, may bring you some great ideas. You’re also sending the message that you care for the human as much as you care for the work the human produces. It is much better to keep an employee happy than to train a new one.

As an added bonus, you may learn that your operation needs to be enhanced and adapted. You may have outgrown the system you originally put into place to smoothly process your orders and ship your products. Your employee may not have the broader view to recognize that this has happened, but you do. If you put this person in place and then take a hands-off attitude, you may be missing a great opportunity to enhance productivity.

Build in treats and rewards

Whether you’re working with hired staff or your family members, don’t forget to build in some treats and rewards. These don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but everyone likes to have a little break from the routine and a little recognition for good work.

At the library, the weekend staff often arrives to fresh donuts. It’s understood that most of us would rather be home with our families on a Saturday morning, but we all have to take our turns working the weekends. The librarians in charge who bring in something tasty and fattening are often among the favorites of the staff. We may not actually eat the rich treats, but we still have the sense that our weekend service is appreciated.

OK, so you don’t necessarily want to put your family on a weekly diet of donuts, but there are so many other treats possible. If the day is beautiful, take time away from the business to go on a hike or picnic. Knock off early and go together to catch a movie, or visit a local attraction, maybe even the library.

With home and office combined as one, it’s very easy to sacrifice home for office. There is always more to do in an e-commerce business, just as there’s always more work to do in a public library. Accept that you will never actually be finished, and embrace that as a good thing. You really don’t want to see a day when you have nothing to list and nothing to ship! So be sure you can put a lock on the job and attend to the humans. It is the best form of internal customer service.

For the moment it is rewarding, but over the long haul this kind of venting only builds a negative work environment

Control gossip and griping

In serving the public you will always come upon those difficult people who are acting out their own personal drama through their interaction with you. Many times, the person who is most impossible is the one who isn’t really angry with you at all. You’re just the convenient outlet through which this individual can blow off steam.

Library personnel know all about this. It can seem very rewarding to take such an encounter and gab it up. Gossiping about a difficult customer or griping about a co-worker who you think hasn’t done the right thing can seem rewarding. For the moment it is actually rewarding, but over the long haul this kind of venting only builds a negative work environment. Plus, it sends the message that this is the way you and your staff deal with problems and challenges.

This is perhaps the hardest part of safeguarding your internal customers. Humans, by nature, love to gab, and we have never met one who doesn’t like a bit of gossip now and again.

That’s not to say you don’t share difficult encounters or talk about difficult customers. But do it with an eye toward improving your operation and your customer service, not for the sake of trashing another person, no matter how miserable he may be.

When the interaction is over, let it go completely. If you’ve made a mistake that has caused the drama, forgive yourself. If your staff person is the root of the issue, forgive him, too. Was it a family member? Jump at understanding and forgiveness. Your focus should be on keeping your business and—in so many cases—your home, a happy, productive and positive place to work and live.

We hope you have enjoyed this little look at customer service through the eyes of your public library. It may give you a whole new perspective on that person who stands behind the circulation desk ready to help you check out your materials or settle up your fines. Know that, no matter where you live or what form your library takes, the staff members who serve you there have been, and continue to be, trained in all manner of good customer service practices.

As a final philosophical observation to anyone who may think that the book is actually dead in our electronic age, here’s some news: I routinely hand a requested book to a youngster and see the delight on his face to be getting the thing he was hoping for. Not only is the book not dead, but it is alive and thriving very well in the hearts of the next generation!

Read the first two parts this series:
Customer Service: Keeping Them Happy Day In, Day Out
Customer Service: Pleasing the Impossible Customer

For more customer service advice, read Answering Questions Before Customers Ask.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • Internal customers are just as
    important, if not more so, than the outside customer. You must take care
    of them. If they aren’t treated well, how can you expect them to treat
    the customer well. Just about every customer service technique that works
    for outside customers will work for the internal customer as well.

Newsletter Signup