The word service appears in many corporate mission statements and is mostly focused on customers. Companies like to show how service-focused they are with plaques and banners in their lobbies.
It’s easy to focus on customers since every company’s livelihood depends on a strong relationship and service orientation toward each one. But what about the internal customer and the service drive between the various functions within a company?
How strong is that focus on service, or is it just lip service? Small businesses and startups have a natural focus on service to each other. The many hats people wear in small businesses encourages discussing how to make each employee’s job easier. Spontaneous communication, education and having each other’s backs encourages a strong internal customer focus.
But what happens as the company grows and each function begins to focus on strengthening itself. Then the internal focus on service to each other may require a new frame of reference — one that asks, “How can I best serve the other internal functions with what I know and can do?” As an example, it may become necessary to see how well product development responds to and educates marketing and sales, and vice versa. As product-based companies get bigger, that’s the traditional tension point. But it doesn’t have to be, especially in a company that preserves its roots.
Let’s continue this as an example of service within a company. Marketing and sales can have a productive dialogue with product development. Discussions of the external customer take place within the context of the industry — where the customer fits in the marketplace, what problem they face and their options in solving it. Product development can educate marketing and sales on how the customer’s problem will be solved. Such internal discussions can help identify better solutions for the customer while both sales and production build a closer relationship — especially if the dialogue continues.
Education and dialogue are important processes in building an internal service company. Each function within a company can operate with a growing sense of how it can serve other company functions. Company size can be a challenge to internal service, but it doesn’t have to be. Another illustration of internal service is how finance and accounting interact with other areas of the company.
In many cases, the finance and accounting department creates a dependency on its function so that each internal customer must come to them for the unique services they provide. But what if finance and accounting, over time, educate and train internal departments and employees on how to develop their own financial reporting and auditing practices, conducted within company guidelines. Finance can then be a problem solver rather than a service provider.
That’s a different kind of service to internal customers. In larger businesses there’s a clear trend toward decentralization and more attention given to the needs and independence of internal customers. What if human resources becomes more customer-focused by letting departments set their own policies for vacation, performance appraisal, rewards and professional development? Would that be chaos — or would it be the transformation of HR into a resource that provides unique support as needed?
Is this controversial? Not for larger firms, especially when you take into account that technology, data analytics and millennials are all becoming more dominant in the workplace. Software is now available to perform service functions for sales, marketing, external customer relations, financial performance, productivity and efficiencies, and human resources. The laptop will be the primary access to more and more of these programs.
What personality traits does it take to be of total service to each other’s function in the workplace? It takes humility, persuasiveness and being a good listener. Humility here means an intense focus on service to others with little regard for self-interest. A service-oriented person is a person of influence and the ability to convince others to act or support each other. Above all, a service-oriented person is on who listens well and doesn’t react, except after close examination of what each person or situation requires.
Through technology, software and personal influence, you can have a true service company that is visible to and valued by external customers.