Why the customer doesn’t always come first…and who does instead

As a retail professional, you know how important it is to deliver great results to a customer – you’ve been encouraged to put the customer first. You’ve been condi­tioned to believe that all your efforts need to be in service of your customers’ needs. But at what cost does this come?

The consequence is that people neglect the needs of their colleagues. In fact, before you look externally towards your customers, you must first look internally at how you treat each of your teammates. Here’s why.

Keep a tidy house

On the whole, in today’s retail environments, leaders overcommit with busy schedules, bounce between back-to-back meetings, and leave very little time for building relationships with their team members.

In turn, this filters down the organisation to the frontline employees who limit their efforts to work that only impacts them, bounce between tasks and miss opportunities to be helpful to their teammates and leave very little time for collaboration and good-spirited support.

Hence, your internal team must come first!

There’s no point focusing on the quality of your service externally if the service among your teams and across departments is not a genuine, healthy reflection of what you desire to project towards your customers.

If you only dial up your treatment and care towards people externally and neglect the relationships internally, you run the risk of having inconsistent customer-service levels across the entire workforce, because there is no standard or practice internally that is ingrained in the DNA of the team.

Make time for meeting

Think of your colleagues as your internal customers. They deserve your focus, your attention, your commitment and dedication just as a paying customer does. Colleagues want to be heard and understood and treated with care and kindness, just like a paying customer does. They want to feel that they’re a priority and that you’re interested in their happiness, just like a paying customer does.

The best way to invest in relationships and serve your internal customers is to get to know them – meaning, to catch up with them with no agenda.

This could be simply a ten-minute sit-down with each staff member to talk about whatever that person wants to talk about. It’s a small amount of time; however, it provides a cadence for ensuring that people are constantly getting to communicate with, relate to and understand each other with no agenda or specific outcome in mind.

You may find that, in your organisation, there are opportunities throughout a day that are less structured but just as impactful. Social events, for example, or lunchtime get-togethers.

Breaking down barriers

These are the fundamentals of building rapport, breaking down barriers between people and coming to understand people more deeply. The more you can relate to your colleagues, crack a joke, lighten their day, serve them – the better your team will serve customers.

It is not about wasting time or prioritising socialising over getting the job done. It’s about approaching each relationship with respect and curiosity and valuing one another.

When you have quality relationships internally, you’ll see a rise in team efficiency and alignment. Conversations will flow more easily. People will take things less personally and more professionally. People will be less interested in individual success and see their value in contributing to the greater success of the business.

Investing in internal relationships is no different from serving customers. We need to nurture a customer service mindset inside the walls of our workplaces first in order for the relationships on the outside to thrive. Just try it and see.

Jaquie Scammell, customer service expert and author of “Service Habits”

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