10 Feb 09

Back in the WEE beginnings of my management career I started operating by one simple general rule, everyone I work with or for is my customer. I am my own company. I manage my “own business” and my own product. I am the keeper of my own reputation. If someone thinks I performed poorly, either a) I DID, or b) I didn’t communicate well enough during the project to allow my customer to see I made every possible effort to accomplish the ultimate goal: their satisfaction.

The more people I managed the more I tried to help everyone understand that our operating unit was it’s own separate entity from any other department in the firm. If I was the accounting manager, I insisted we answer THE questions: Who were our customers? Were they ACTUAL customers? Or were they other employees? Were they managers internally? Were they vendors from whom our company buys products and services? Usually iIt didn’t matter. They were all our customers in one way or another and our goal was to make sure we did exactly what we could (within legal limits) to perform their required tasks, duties or projects to their satisfaction. That doesn’t mean, “Well, here’s your report.” “What? You don’t like it? Well that’s how I’ve always done it. So this one must be good enough too.”

Isn’t this always a general rule, “If ‘they’ are happy, we are happy.” Sometimes “they” can never be happy. Sometimes we’re never told if “they” are happy. And then sometimes “they” always seem happy, even if they are miserable and want to put you on the next boat to nowhere.

Now that I work in law firms (aka the “service industry”) customer service is talked about a lot. Every law firm thinks (and knows) that their primary mission is to service the “client” (or customer at Summit). Every firm prides themselves on ultimate client satisfaction. If we all say that, and we all do that, how does that make any one of us different from the other? On the other hand of COURSE we can’t say, “Well, we have mediocre customer service, and we’ll get back to our customers when it’s convenient.”

I’ve worked at enough companies now in my 33 years to know that performing great customer service to your customers is only a small part of what will make a company REALLY successful.

When the customer is the customer this all makes sense! But what if you start looking at your employees as customers instead of “people who work FOR you”?

I’d like to propose “Big Circle” customer service. Big Circle Customer Service starts internally, selecting employees whom you respect enough to treat as well as you would any “paying customer”. Selecting vendors and outside service providers to not only perform the tasks you ask, but who enhance your own customer service while YOU enhance theirs! Know that every internal meeting or management process that takes place somehow affects the customer service your firm ultimately gives to your “paying customers”.

So, starting with employees: you HAVE to make sure you’re communicating with each employee as clearly and cordially as you would your paying customers! Every single employee in your organization makes it successful somehow. If that employee is not contributing to the success, then, just like any paying customer who can’t contribute to your company’s success, they have to go. “Well, they report to me, therefore they have to do what I say.” Well, for those few who might actually live/manage by that moto, I’ve got news, slavery ended decades ago. You don’t own them, they just work for you, and voluntarily I might add!

A quote I learned from management consultant Michael Nash about paying employees for work, “You can buy their hands. You can buy their backs. But they volunteer their hearts and their mind.”

Picture each interaction with each employee as a customer meeting. What’s the goal? Who has to accomplish it? Is that the right person for the job? Do they have the tools and knowledge to accomplish the mission?

By treating our employees like our other customers we gain their respect. They “invest” more of their heart and their brain into the organization and, ultimately offer better customer service to their customers.

Customer service isn’t for someone else to give. It’s your job too.

(Since part of Summit’s customer service philosophy is our Value Adjustment Line, allowing customers to adjust their invoice up or down appropriate to the value of the services they believe they received, I wonder if I could ask for a Value Adjustment Line to be added to my paycheck! Hmmmmm… Maybe I’m just one step ahead! How about I just be greatful for what I have!)

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