Back in 2004, I was working in the banking industry, in the mortgage division of a large national bank. At this company, I noticed a stark contrast in how management encouraged employees to provide the most amazing customer service to external customers, yet offered little support or training for internal employee interactions. Because of this, the internal culture had turned toxic. There were often full-blown shouting matches and a complete lack of respect between departments. Adding to the toxicity was a very strong class structure that began to take root between the different departments. I even witnessed one employee throw a file at their coworker. It was bad.

Even though the company sang its own praises of superior customer service, and waxed eloquently about how customer service was a major part of its vision, values and mission of the company, unfortunately, leadership failed to see the connection between internal employee customer service (how employees serve each other) and external customer service.

Internal vs External Customer Service

What is Internal Customer Service? Yes, internal customer service is a “thing”. It requires a shift in thinking. When employees begin to see their co-workers and other employees as actual “customers,” they begin to treat them differently.

The word “customer” is defined as: 1. a person or organization that buys goods or services from a store or business. 2. a person or thing of a specified kind that one has to deal with.

In the traditional sense of the word, we all understand what customers are and how their business is important in the world. It is also inherently understood that keeping customers happy is always an important goal. Afterall, without customers, a business can’t sustain.

In a company, employees often see themselves as a “family” while viewing customers as “guests”. While there may be in-fighting and bickering behind closed doors, when the guests arrive, it’s all smiles. Have you ever been a guest in a home where they were keeping up appearances, but you as a guest could cut the tension with a knife? The truth is that toxic internal behavior can’t help but seep out into customer interactions.

When employees begin to see every other employee also as a guest or customer who deserves great service, the level of internal friction is reduced. As employees begin to treat each other with deep respect in an attitude of service, engagement will rise. The added bonus is that external customer service begins to drastically improve without even trying. For external customer service to be amazing, internal customer service must also be a priority.

Back to the banking industry. At that company, Brandon Poe, co-founder of EmpowerPoints, and I were asked to be part of a steering committee that could help solve and fix some of these major problems. Through a long and arduous process, we began to dismantle and examine the issues. What we discovered was profound. It all came down to how people were being treated by each other. Not by management. We began a slow process of working to help employees understand the importance of treating each other as customers and giving them tools to show each other appreciation. That’s how EmpowerPoints was born.