The People Business: How People Change People

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Home > Articles > The People Business: How People Change People

 The People Business: How People Change People

Seow Bee Leng | Today's Manager
June 1, 2019

Connecting with our external and internal customers to create positive moments of truth is what makes great companies amazing.

Too often we limit our definition of a customer to someone who is outside our organisation. Everyone who works in a company has customers regardless of whether they work with external, paying customers, or internal co-workers from same or different departments.

The customers we serve fall into external and internal categories. External customers are the people you deal with, face-to-face, over the phone and E-mails, and who purchase products or services from you. Without them, there would be no business and no paycheck. If your definition of a customer stops here, you are only seeing half the picture. The other half of the picture is the people in your organisation who work with you and engage the services, products, and information that they need to get their jobs done. They need the same kind of service that is given to external customers. The internal customer service chain works both ways. Sometimes you are the customer; and other times the service provider. For example, a colleague comes to you and asks for a report update. In this case, you are the service provider because you are giving him/her what he/she needs. An hour later, you may return to that same colleague to ask for assistance on a project status; now you are the customer.

Being Parts of a Whole
Consider this story set in a café: the cook had the habit of throwing utensils in the kitchen wherever he was upset. Staff could tell that he was in a foul mood whenever they hear the noise of clattering metal. Alice, a service staff, was taking the order of a dinner patron who asked to substitute steamed vegetables for French fries that usually accompanied the set meal. As Alice’s smile congealed, she immediately thought of the upset cook. Reluctantly, Alice replied to the customer: “The change will be fine.” Her trip back to the kitchen felt like a walk to the gallows as she quickly threw down the order and left before being scolded. As she waited on her next table, she noticed that the cook’s hostile attitude had dampened her enthusiasm to serve. The cook’s job description was to prepare food. No mention was made of how his dealings with or attitude toward others might affect the customers’ experience.

The truth is, the relationship between internal and external customers form part of the customer experience in the service chain. It is easy to feel that your work has little to no impact on external customers when your work involves backend, non-customer-facing tasks. However, if you look at the bigger picture, you can see that everyone in an organisation plays some part in fulfilling customers’ needs and expectations. Interactions with internal customers are an important link in a chain of events that always ends up with the external customers. We also need to think of ourselves as part of a whole company, viewing the company as our company. If you develop a new
mental frame of considering the requests in your inbox as coming from “an internal customer” rather than from “those guys in Finance,” you are likely going to get it done with a smile. We need to provide the kind of service that will win the hearts of those who are trying our services for the first time; retaining our existing customers as well as those who are serving alongside us in the service chain.

Connecting for Moments of Truth
We need to communicate with our external and internal customers to accomplish the service task. Connecting and establishing relationships are the essence of our service job. They often happen in a brief encounter in the servicescape. These brief connections are defined as moments of truth. They can (in the space of 20 seconds) have a lasting impact on your customers’ perception of the service you offer. Perception is reality to our customers. Heighten your sensitivity to how you observe and respond to your customers especially those who are different from you.

Consider this story set in the office reception: a prospective customer comes to see you. He walks up to the receptionist and tells her that he is here for his three o’clock appointment with you. The receptionist is busy working on her laptop and does not look up for several seconds. She wishes that he would leave so that she can get on with her work. When she finally does look up, she forces a phoney smile and replies in an irritated tone. This negative moment of truth with the receptionist does not stop here, but is unwittingly applied to the rest of the organisation’s touchpoints.

Now imagine the opposite of that customer experience. Your customer walks in and the receptionist immediately looks up with a warm smile, and greets him: “Good morning, how may I assist you?” When the customer asks for you, the receptionist tells him you will just be a moment and offers him a cup of coffee or tea while waiting. This positive moment of truth paves the way for a successful customer engagement. Some simple yet high connecting opportunities to create positive moments for truth include becoming more aware of your non-verbal cues when a customer approaches you. Try examining how you look in snapshots, especially the ones that were taken before you had a chance to “say cheese.” A smile works much better than a grimace. Be a thinking service professional to offer options when you are not able to give customers exactly what they want. Your customers can live with a “No” or an “alternative Yes” if it is softened by alternative recommendations. A genuine desire to strike a good connection with the customer would win him/her over to you and your company.

In the face of ringing phones, piling messages, overdue reports, and overrun meetings, you can get so caught up in your daily “to-do list” that it becomes easy to forget the importance of connecting with the customer. This attitude of “you are interrupting my job” leaves customers feeling that as though they are not important enough to warrant your service. Opportunities present themselves in every crisis. Pause to do a self-check on situations where you may have slipped into viewing customers as job interruptions. For instance, do you roll your eyes whenever the phone rings, switch on voicemail even though you are in, find yourself saying ‘no’ more and more, and think that every colleague is out to get you? The challenge is greater as it is not enough to just banish negativism; we need to encourage positivism. Take a step back, examine what you do every day in your customer experience, summon all your energy and strength to do your best, and discover opportunities to connect with your external and internal customers to create positive moments of truth. That is what makes great companies amazing.


Dr Seow Bee Leng has extensive service excellence training experience with corporations (private and public sectors), academic institutions, and non-profit organisations. Her interests lie in helping service employees enjoy service delivery, value-add, and create meaningful connections with their clients. She is the author of S.E.R.V.E.TM : Empower Yourself, Empower Others and Make a Difference.


Copyright © 2019 Singapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 2, 2019

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