Just as satisfied external customers lead to financial success, satisfied employees can also lead to long-term success of an organization. The concept of taking care of your internal customers may seem common sense, but to get employees to apply the concept, there is a lot more involved than meets the eye. Improving internal customer service is made possible by having sound systematic processes with training provided to employees, along with the performance measurement on processes and accompanying improvement strategies.
Internal processes or work systems must be identified and defined. A work system is how your organization organizes itself to get the work done. Formalizing these systems ties the activities to be done to the purpose of producing a product or service and to company goals. Each link has action requirements and expectations that need to be defined. In manufacturing, the shipping function has an action expectation to ship on time to customers. The production function must provide products to shipping for filling customer orders. Purchasing must supply production with acceptable materials on time for production schedules to be met. The work systems approach organizes and prioritizes work in addition to clarifying employee roles where cooperation and innovation can take place.
Sub processes support the employees who produce and deliver products or services. Support processes include human resources, facility management and technology service.
Human resource support includes facilitating the selection, development and motivation of employees within the organization. First, employees need to understand their role in the work system and how the work they perform is aligned to serve others in the organization. The development of employees involves learning new skills and ways to prepare themselves for tomorrow's responsibilities. The human resource function should also support high performance through compensation and recognition. Employees need to be encouraged to problem-solve at the source, be innovative and take reasonable risks to achieve company goals.
Facility management is concerned with not only the protection of the company's assets; its highest priority is to the health and safety of the employees. In addition to the obvious safety precautions, a careful analysis of ergonomics ensures that the workplace is suitable for the work being done. The physical work environment affects both employee productivity and well-being. Managing the environment is an important part of enabling employees to meet and exceed their work expectations.
Technology support can make the difference in a company's competitive edge. Technology can be used to reduce costs and improve information flow and availability. Standards for data input accuracy and timing of input are part of making sure employees have what they need to perform their work.
Performance measurement is integrated with prioritizing work. It identifies and measures those activities that are important to serving customers, whether internal or external. There is always the old adage, "What gets measured gets done." Measures help management manage by fact. Production may have performance goals such as the completion of work orders on time. Purchasing may be measured on frequency or percent of materials out of stock. Questions like, "What does an employee do to support product and/or service delivery?" or "What deliverables do they have?" help identify what to measure. Measurements help employees focus on the priorities and serving their internal customers.
Improvement strategies may include sharing of successful strategies across the company, recognition and reward programs for innovation, information from customers of the internal processes, use of alternative technology and process analysis. Some firms may require a redesign of the complete system to achieve effective internal customer service.
Established internal processes, training, measuring performance and improvement strategies are all important to orienting and expecting your people to recognize their internal customers. They help build satisfaction with the work environment and loyalty to the firm. When employees recognize who they serve within the organization, and treat them as a high priority like an external customer would be, not only does performance improve, employee satisfaction and loyalty increase.
Further support is available from your local Small Business & Technology Development Center to help you with a large variety of business management issues.
- Kevin Baitto, business specialist, MO SBTDC. For Creating Quality Newsletter, Apr. 2004.