We commonly associate the term customer with someone who purchases goods or services. Joseph Juran, the famous management consultant, taught that organizations have both internal and external customers. In addition, internal customers have a direct link to a positive external customer experience. The external customer is the person who purchases the goods or services, while the internal customer is anyone within an organization who is dependent on another person to fulfill job duties. For a church, internal customers are employees and volunteers.
We all know the importance of taking care of the external customer (in this case the congregation), but a successful church will recognize the importance of taking care of the internal customers, the employees and volunteers.
For example, if the church secretary is dealing with computer issues, the IT department considers that person an internal customer and makes as much of an effort to meet her needs as the receptionist does to care for the member calling in for pastoral help.
Why Focus on Internal Customers:
Impact on External Customers
Internal customers have a direct link to the external customers and the quality of the product or service they receive. Whether the internal customer is the office receptionist, the children’s ministry coordinator, or volunteer manager, every person is important to delivering a great service experience for members, visitors, and volunteers.
Employees need to feel valued and appreciated for what they bring to the table. Moreover, an organization’s focus on taking care of internal customers can have an impact on the culture of a church and its workplace. The way employees meet each other’s needs influences this experience. For example, if the receptionist doesn’t receive the information needed to answer caller questions, she not only fails at her job responsibilities but also feels like an afterthought in the information communication chain.
Speeds Up Systems and Processes
Employees often rely on each other to get the job done. Bottlenecks occur when employees are waiting for others to provide the service or information necessary to perform their job duties. For instance, if the purchasing agent is waiting for a supply order from the children’s ministry, that delay can affect the ordering process. This delay can result in the order not arriving in time for the weekend services.
5 Ways to Improve the Internal Customer Experience
Create Service Standards
Service standards are a written document that articulates expectations for service within the organization. Create standards of service for not only external but also internal customers. Hold employees accountable for responding to a coworker’s request within a predetermined time period.
Think through the process and set standards for response times for things like emails, phone calls, or internal requests. These standards will help to communicate expectations for employees to respond to all customer groups.
Train employees about the importance of meeting the needs of all customer groups. This includes a heightened awareness of how taking care of other employees’ needs has a direct impact on the external customer experience. This training should help employees think through why it is important to respond to other employees. Use this opportunity to explain expectations for complying with service standards and address any issues related to meeting those standards. For example, if there is a standard to respond to emails within the same business day, the maintenance supervisor may have limited access to a computer because of the nature of his job. Address these types of challenges during training.
Hold Employees Accountable
Standards for service and training are important, but unless employees are accountable for expected behaviors, these are merely exercises in futility. Create a performance review process that incorporates compliance with service and tie it to pay and reward systems. For example, grade employees on how well they meet the standards as part of the performance appraisal process.
A helpful exercise is to require employees, from related, dependent departments, to meet and explain what they do and how they do it. This exposure to another person’s job can provide a view into the expectations and challenges that may not otherwise be obvious.
For instance, when I worked in healthcare, employees, who worked in the patient registration department, cross-trained in the patient billing department (and vice versa) as part of their orientation. The billing department was on the receiving end of the patient registration information. So, if there was an error in the registration process, it had a direct impact on the billers. That is why it was important for the patient registration employees to understand how what they did affected those farther down the information supply chain.
Process Improvement Teams
Use employees to help resolve internal process issues or departmental problems by creating a team that represents the entire process. In my healthcare situation, a team to reduce the billing cycle time would include members from the patient registration department as well as members from the billing department. Having all perspectives involved in the problem solving adds clarity to problem resolution.
Employees rely on each other to provide the service and support to get the job done. This means employees need to exert as much effort taking care of each other (internal customers) as they do taking care of church members (external customers). Paying attention to these two critical groups will keep members engaged and employees empowered to take care of the people who financially support the church through their generous donations!
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Patricia Lotich is the founder of Smart Church Management, a site devoted to providing free articles, tools and resources for those managing a church operation. Patricia has ten years of Business Administration and Church Operations experience and has a driving passion to help churches fulfill their call by managing the resources God has given them – people, time and money. Follow Patricia on Twitter and Facebook