Customer Service Starts at Home

Norb Slowikowski / December 2016

The key to truly great customer service can be found in how employees feel about their own job and organization. It all starts there. Because, if an employee doesn’t have satisfaction with his company, how can we expect the customer to be satisfied? First you must get your own house in order before turning outward.
The question becomes this: How well are you serving your employees and therefore your customers? This question pertains to both internal and external customers. The internal customers are those people inside the company with whom you work and interact—for example, the foreman’s internal customer is the superintendent, the project manager, office staff personnel, i.e., payroll administrator and the crew. Everyone has one or more internal customer and the key for internal customers is to interact positively with them and satisfy their needs. The same would be true of external customers—the GC’s superintendent, the architect, the owner and the other trades on the job.
The level of service an employee brings to a customer is a reflection of how well that employee feels served, or how well his/her needs are being met by the organization. You can only serve the external customer satisfactorily to the extent that internal customers serve each other. To the extent that internal customers feel supported, encouraged and served, they will then help their external customers.
To provide a high level of customer satisfaction, you must meet the following requirements:
You win/I win/We win. Establish win/win relationships through action-oriented behavior. Find out the specifics of what the customers wants and then deliver. With a genuine customer focus, you’ll probably also end up getting what you want. And that ain’t bad!
You are the company. No matter who you are or what you do, the behavior you transmit to the customer creates a perception that leads to an evaluation of the total company. If the foreman is argumentative and surly with the GC’s superintendent, then the superintendent will generalize and tell people that your company is nothing but trouble and refuses to satisfy the needs of the GC. This is a good way to get removed from the bid list.
Display competence and care. This requires people who know how to solve problems, meet the schedule and produce quality results. They’re proactive rather than reactive. They also project a “whole job” focus and care about the GC’s problems as well.
Honesty is the only policy. When there’s a problem or an obstacle that prevents you from being effective and efficient, present your case to the GC without emotion, and offer a solution to solve the problem or remove the obstacle. Be candid, but make sure to attack the problem, not the person.
Listen! Listen! Listen! Hear people out. Let them finish what they’re saying. Don’t interrupt them while they’re talking so as to gain an understanding of the issue, and to let them know you’re there to move forward and make things better.
Go above and beyond. Impress your customers. Do more than what’s expected. Go the “extra mile.” Provide value, which is in the eyes of the beholder. Find out what’s really important to your customer and then deliver it.
Be a fantastic fixer. There’s a solution for every problem. Let the customer know that you will do whatever it takes to solve the problem. Even if you don’t have the answer, you will go to other people in your company who have the knowledge and expertise to solve the customer’s problems. Utilize the “team concept.” You don’t have all the answers, so find and use those who do.
Master the art of calm. Always control your emotions. Yelling, screaming and letting your emotions take over communicates immaturity and ends up with a lot of arguing and animosity. It creates problems instead of solving them. Controlling your emotions and expressing dissatisfaction in a plain, assertive way opens the door to mutual respect and problem resolution.
If you stick to these eight keys, without skipping steps, you’ll find that exceptional customer service is within reach. But remember, it all starts at home. Nurture the people in your organization so that they can deliver real service to the customer.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill. To contact him, email