As it appeared in the Daily Nation on October 17th, 2017
There is too much talk about service to our external customers but little action. Just a few weeks ago, we witnessed great enthusiasm as organizations interacted with their customers during the Customer Service Week celebrations. Unfortunately, most external service initiatives are short lived. This is mainly because we fail to address the underlying link that external customer service has to the quality of our internal service. Unless we get it right internally, service to our external customers will remain a hassle.
Internal service quality is rarely top of the mind in many organizations. This is despite study after study painting a clear picture of the critical role that internal service quality plays in driving overall organizational success. In many organizations, success defined in terms of customer retention, growth in customer numbers or customer spending, profitability and reputation is linked to the quality of external service as the starting point. Why are we leaving out internal service quality in this equation?
In their book “The Service Profit Chain”, the authors highlight a chain that establishes relationships between profitability, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity. The authors point out that customer satisfaction results from the value created by satisfied, loyal, and productive employees. They go on to explain that loyal and satisfied employees are a result of high-quality internal support services and policies, which in turn enable employees to deliver results to customers. Slightly over two decades after the first article in the Harvard Business Review on the service profit chain appeared, the internal service quality concept remains obscure in some organizations and a dilemma in many.
Attention to internal service quality moves our organizations beyond symptoms such as poor staff attitude and customer complaints to a deeper look into the internal state of our organizations. Internal service quality is about focusing more on the internal capabilities and competences of an organization that help organizations meet customer needs. Forward-looking organizations investigate the root cause of symptoms such as poor staff attitude. Anyone aware of the quality management movement knows that it has taken root in the manufacturing sector. Why is internal service dragging its foot in the service industry?
Quality management and its very important aspect of quality improvement needs to be an ongoing adventure in all organizations involving all staff. The Human Resources professionals especially have the important role of ensuring that HR policies stress internal service quality. As witnessed in the service profit chain, internal service quality positively influences employee satisfaction, which in turn influences employee productivity, and retention both of which are at the centre of customer value creation. Customer value can be consistently created only if employees’ capability and productivity become a focal point of our service quality initiatives. To move faster in our desire to raise service standards in our organizations, we must have an inside-out approach to service.
In its basic form, internal quality is reflected in the attitudes that our staff have towards one another and how they serve each other internally. Therefore, smart companies need to invest more in their people and in technology that supports how staff work with one another internally. Unless we pay more attention to internal service quality, our efforts to delight our external customers may be fruitless. The greatest wisdom from the Service Profit Chain paradigm is that we need to stop trivializing service issues and confining them to the front line and look deeper into our organizations.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy