From time to time, I run into company leaders who'll fawn all over paying customers, then turn around and treat employees (the people who serve those customers, day in and day out) like pond scum.
Not the best approach.
My work as a customer service consultant has made clear that if you're going to be a great company for your customers, you also need to be a great company for your employees; if your goal is to serve customers in a superior manner, you also need to serve the people who serve those customers. Steve Bartolin, chairman of The Broadmoor (a resort in Colorado Springs whose customers are so loyal that their relationship with the hotel can span three or more generations) puts it this way:
"Our approach here is that we're all in this together. We treat everybody with dignity and respect no matter what your job title. That's something that is talked about daily throughout this organization and held as paramount." And their director of training echoed the thought as well, "We're committed to applying our Broadmoor values to how we treat guests, and how we treat each other. We want to make sure we take care of every employee, as well as every guest, every single time. We want to make sure that every employee, as well as every guest, is having a great time while they are here."
In other words, "the message has to be the same everywhere," to quote Max Zanardi, a customer service professional currently with One&Only Resorts in Montenegro. "My credibility [as a leader] is based on the fact that I'm genuine. If I am only hospitable with my guests, then it's not three-dimensional any more. If I'm scrupulous about letting the guest pass first, I need to also be consistent about yielding the right of way to my colleagues. Or let's say you are in the hospitality business but you wouldn't give a great room to one of your employees when they are staying in your hotel. Examples like this happen all the time, and it gets very confusing to employees. Turning on and turning off hospitality is so much harder and less effective than simply keeping it on all the time."
This is medicine that can be challenging to swallow. If your business is dedicated to being "all about the customer," suddenly being "all about the employee" seems like a different, and additional, mission to take on.
One response that can work is to keep your organization's pro-customer language intact, but to start talking about your employees as "internal customers" and extending that language so it applies to the company's treatment of them as well.
Once you think of employees as internal customers, your entire organization can start internally applying what they've learned works extermally: empathy, timeliness, politeness, good body language, good telephone skills, and so forth. These are all behaviors and skills that employees often grow lax on when not working with external customers, which is perhaps understandable, since they feel that they're offstage.
The power of this shift can be formidable. While it's only external customers that directly pay our bills, employees can float, or sink, a business just as directly. While they don't need the formalities often present in how we treat external customers--for example, when you answer an internal telephone line you don't need to give a complete "Welcome to XYZ, Jeremy speaking, how may I assist you?-- common, and even uncommon, courtesy is still very valuable. Even prospective employees whom you've rejected for employment appreciate the "customer" treatment. There is a lot of value in being kind to the people you don't choose for your team; if you seem like a good employer and they speak well of your company (in person or via Glassdoor) their friends who may be a better fit for employment won't immediately write you off for rejecting their friend.
Micah Solomon, recently named the "new guru of customer service excellence" by the Financial Post, is a customer service consultant, customer service thought leader, keynote speaker, customer service trainer, and bestselling author. Click here for two free chapters from Micah's latest book .