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How To Build An Internal Customer Service Initiative

If you’re interested in building an internal customer service initiative, I can tell you how I would do it, in case you want to undertake this on your own. (I’m a customer service consultant, trainer, and eLearning producer on both external [consumer-facing] and internal [colleague-on-colleague] customer service.)

First, I’d make a point of clarifying how internal and external customer service are and aren’t the same. There are basically only two things to understand about this distinction.

• On the one hand, internal and external customer service are the same at the heart. One of my favorite comments on this matter is from Lisa Holladay, who formerly helmed the iconic Ritz-Carlton hotel brand:

The wow stories we’re so famous for delivering for our [external] customers? We also have wow stories that happen for other Ladies and Gentlemen [employees]. We’re not famous for these because they’re internal, but I hear many times that “the reason I stay with the brand [as an employee] is the way that other Ladies and Gentlemen help me. When my wife was coming through surgery, my friends stocked my fridge and helped me with the driving; my work colleagues are some of the most hospitable people in my personal life as well.”

• However, they’re not the same as far as superficialities. Why? External customers are inherently the “out group,” while we within the company are always going to be the “in crowd.” The same elements that bind us together (shared jargon, internal traditions) that we avoid as off-putting to an external customer can be very important to honor in internal customer service. Conversely the formalities that are important to observe with someone who is essentially (at least at first) a stranger don’t always make sense when interacting with a colleague.

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Then, I’d get to work on disseminating and providing training on the essentials of internal customer service. Here are eight that I stress when I helm or contribute to an internal customer service improvement initiative as a customer service consultant:

[A resource for readers: If you’d like a copy of my “Eight Principles of Internal Customer Service,” email me at and I’ll get it to you right away.]

1.     As with external customer service, there are three stages to every service interaction: the beginning (the warm welcome), performing the service or providing the product, and closing the service (the fond farewell). While we tend to think of only that middle item (performing the service/providing the product) as our job, in reality, if you neglect the other two steps you will ruffle feathered and fail to build and sustain the kind of connections that make an organization flourish. (Don’t be the tone-deaf manager who gets all the bills paid, processes payroll and completes the month-end reports but doesn’t say “good morning” or “have a nice evening.”)

2.     Mental reframing is magical in how much difference it can make: Once you start thinking of that stuff filling your in-box as coming from an important customer rather than “those guys in the other department,” you’ll start processing it faster and more conscientiously, and you’ll find yourself developing a figurative and even literal spring in your step.

3.     Fulling both the expressed and aexpressed wishes of your co-workers (“customers”) are both important. A simple example: a fellow employee makes a specific request, by email. You can either send them exactly what they asked for (and nothing more), or you can also, thoughtfully, include the attachments that they will need to begin working on X, even though they didn’t explicitly ask for them. A different kind of example: recognizing the emotive as well as the literal content of a communication from a colleague and reaching out to them on the basis of it.

4.     By sharing best practices and innovative leaps we all grow, personally and as a company. In fact, sharing best practices and innovative improvements is a key goal of internal customer service improvement.

5.     Hoarding power through our positions is a dead end. Through lateral service—moving out of our assigned positions to help fellow employees when they are temporarily short-staffed—we build a stronger company for employees and external customers.

6.     Respect has to be an across-the-board expectation. With no exceptions. Bullying has to be addressed immediately, no matter how high up in the organization it occurs.

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7.     Fine points of etiquette don’t have to be the same internally as externally (for example, we can informally answer an internal extension with “Purchasing–Jim” rather than “XYZ Homewares, Jim speaking, how may I help you today?”), but the spirit of kindness must prevail.

8.      Language matters, internally as much as it does externally, because the feelings of your colleagues matter too. Watch out for language that subtly or unsubtly puts down the recipient:

Like I said…


or diminishes the value of the rest of your words:

To be perfectly honest with you…

Also, and perhaps this seems basic, but it shouldn’t be left unsaid: “Please” and “Thank you” are important phrases. Use them often.


What format should internal customer service training take?

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For internal customer service training, I often propose eLearning as a particularly attractive option because of its asynchronous nature and because it outlasts the trainer—it’s still there to be used with future employees and in onboarding, even after “Mr. Solomon has left the auditorium.”

Customer Service Training/eLearning excerpt: The MAMA method of turning upset customers around

Customer Service Training/eLearning excerpt: The MAMA method of turning upset customers around

Live training, in person or via video, is also powerful, of course. With either option, augmenting the training with physical collateral can be very, very helpful in getting the essential points across and keeping everyone—literally—on the same page.


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