Since the downturn in general aviation business of 2008 many general aviation businesses including MROs and maintenance facilities are seeking ways to gain a bigger piece of a smaller pie. Much of the buzz has been centered on enhancing customer service levels to distinguish or brand themselves in the marketplace and separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Most often, our perception of customer service usually begins and remains focused on the end users who patronize our business. These end users are our external customers. We focus training and awareness on serving these external customers in a fashion that creates loyalty, and retains their business. The ultimate success is turning them into ambassadors for our company where they tell others of the incredible service they received.
But how do we treat our internal customers? Do we have standards and guidelines for them as we do for external customers? Are we as diligent and equally committed to delivering what our internal customers require or need from us? First, who or what are internal customers? Why are they important and what, if any, is their ultimate effect on our external customers?
So let’s begin with an understanding of internal customers. Maintenance shops and other general aviation businesses do not operate in a vacuum. They interact and transact with other entities such as vendors, suppliers, manufacturers, and professional advisors, without whom the business would be challenged to grow and thrive. They require parts, labor, and services of others to deliver the finished end product or service to their customer.
These internal relationships, who together, engage in meeting and exceeding the customer’s needs and wants, are what we term internal customers. But there is yet a more significant internal customer that we have not yet mentioned … that being our own peers and co-workers; yes I mean the employees within our own organization and its numerous departments. So we might conclude that an internal customer is anyone, who at any time is dependent on someone else in the organization.
Ironically the internal customer can be someone you work for or someone who works for you. That may seem strange when you think that if he/she works for you, you are his/her internal customer because you are the boss. It then would follow that as you are dependent on those you manage or supervise to carry out responsibilities for which you are ultimately accountable, your team is equally as dependent on you to provide vital and accurate information and training so they can do the best job possible.
There is a close link between how internal customers, including co-workers, are treated and the resulting customer satisfaction of the external customer. Simply put, what you do as an employee and how you interact and treat other employees and vendors has a direct effect on the customer.
Here are four key elements by which internal customer service and cooperation and teamwork between co-workers and departments can be measured and enhanced: Helpfulness, responsiveness, respectfulness, and finally, be someone who is easy to do business with or easy to work with.
Helpfulness: Was the issue resolved? Was the task sheet clear? Was progress made? Was the shift turnover sheet data completed? Was the logbook entry clear and concise? Was the work environment left clean and ready for the next shift?
Responsiveness: Was the request acknowledged or communication returned quickly? In the maintenance world satisfactorily and safely meeting a delivery date for repair and returning an aircraft to airworthiness as promised means everything. An A&P technician is dependent on the parts department to obtain the part he or she needs. The parts department is dependent on the supplier to deliver the part as promised. The A&P may be dependent on the IA to accomplish and sign off an inspection.
You can see how responsiveness is critical. The participating parties form both a chain and a cohesive team which must function seamlessly to meet the delivery date to the customer as promised. As we are all aware, failing to do this will likely result in decreased customer loyalty at minimum, potentially losing the customer all together as well as immeasurable unnecessary costs.
Respectfulness: Was sincere interest and cooperation shown? How are we communicating with each other? If verbally, do we treat our co-worker as we would wish to be treated? If communicating via email, before we hit send, do we re-read our email through the eyes and ears of the receiver? Is the message clear and not ambiguous? Is the tone receptive and friendly as opposed to argumentative, curt, or sarcastic? Have we communicated the desired intent?
Make it easy to do business with you or make it easy to work and cooperate with you: Evaluate your internal processes for gaps and areas where the ball gets dropped. Make accountability a priority. Place the right personalities in the right jobs. Hiring a front counter person who is a whiz at processing a transaction, but reluctant to talk to a customer is not the right personality for the job.
We are all human, and internal customer service failures will happen. Here are some suggestions for improvement:
- Identify who your internal customers are
- Ask your internal customers (co-workers) what is needed for them to do the job they provide
- Ask them what disappoints them or makes it difficult to deliver what they provide and what might be done to make their job easier
- Identify and address communication breakdowns
Most companies that have developed a reputation for excellent customer service did not achieve it without everyone in the organization adopting a customer service attitude. They have achieved it by fostering a customer service culture throughout the organization, one that supports the belief that customer service is not just a department.
Someone once said that if you are not working directly with the outside customer, you are probably working with someone who is. Virtually every skill and technique you have read or learned about general customer service applies to the internal customer as well as the external customer. By mastering this you become a more valuable asset to your organization by positioning yourself as a leader and role model for others to follow.
Bottom line is companies that practice outstanding customer service find it is easier to attract and retain customers and find it easier to attract and retain employees. Employees who practice outstanding internal service find it easier to keep and enhance their careers. AMT
DeborahAnn Cavalcante leads Diversified Aviation Consulting (DAC) and has firsthand experience in air carrier operations, private charter aircraft, general aviation operations, military/civilian interface, FBO management, maintenance repair station training, safety training, human factors training, and customer service training. For more information on DAC visit www.dac.aero.
DeborahAnn Cavalcante earned her Master of Aeronautical Science, with a specialization in Safety Management from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, FL, and her Bachelor of Science from VA Tech in Business and Risk Management.