How do internal communications affect the ability of an organization to provide good service?

Picture great service as a three-legged bar stool. Your customer is sitting on top. What happens if one of the legs isn’t strong, or is flat out broken? That’s right, the customer falls off the stool and has a bad experience. Each of the elements represented by the bar stool can be given its own deep dive, but here’s the big picture.

The first leg of that stool is your own ability to interact professionally with another human being. No matter what your role or situation, courtesy is 100 percent within your control. It includes a professional appearance, body language, demeanor, sense of humor, kindness and empathy.

The second leg of that “great experiences” bar stool is promptness. Good service is fast service. Our customers want to know when they can expect results. And they need you to be consistently prompt with your communications and actions.

The third leg of the stool is actually the most important one in answering this particular question. The third leg is knowledge. The level of service you can provide is largely determined by your ability to answer a question correctly the first time you are asked. This may seem straightforward but providing an accurate answer in government can be like hitting a moving target. It requires effort on the part of everyone to focus on information sharing and ensuring proper communications channels are functioning at peak performance.

Not only are laws and regulations always changing while new bills on the federal, state and local levels are being passed, but maybe even more elusive are the internal changing policies and procedures. Keeping pace can be difficult.

For front line staff, this information is usually first filtered into the organization at a higher level and someone has to make a decision to take action and disseminate it to everyone that is affected. That could happen though meetings, trainings, emails, memos and so on. The goal should be that if a customer calls 5 different people and asks the same question, they should get the same answer from the staff.

Working with many different agencies, they almost all tell me this is a problem, and when I mystery shop or do public area observations, I see the problems first hand. People are not being kept apprised of changes. I often hear employees say “I don’t know, I haven’t heard about that.” Even worse, I’ve heard people say things like “They don’t tell me anything around here.”

I worked with an organization where internally communication was so difficult that staff weren’t told that their work schedules (start/stop) times were all changed until they heard it through the grapevine and asked if it were true.
The thing about government is that we most often practice tribal learning. Meaning everything is passed along through word of mouth and stories. There is almost never a formal communications plan. What would be helpful is a list of actions that could happen that would trigger a notification to staff. Here’s an example. A letter goes out to a whole bunch of people saying call this number for more information. And then the actions could be the following.
• Tell the people who will be getting the calls
• Give the answers to the questions people might ask
• Script some suggested language for responses
• Share the actual letter with the team

I believe in a “no surprises” policy at work. I don’t want to be surprised, and I don’t want my team surprised either. Great communications is not only worth every bit of effort it takes to make sure it happens, but is absolutely mission critical in providing the accuracy of service that is part of providing a great customer experience.

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Joe Williams

I would say that internal communications GREATLY affects the ability of an organization to deliver good customer service and meet its obligations to its stakeholders. Without going into great detail, I can see missteps by my Agency over the last two years by violating the “no surprises” policy you mentioned, as well as in the amount of effort invested in effective communications, both internally as well as to stakeholders. Perhaps an area to address is to scale the amount of communication along with change in an organization, regulations, policies, etc. What are your thoughts on that?

Wendi Pomerance Brick

Sure, Joe. Scale and amount are very important. I know of one organization where there is extreme fatigue because leadership sends out messages with the non-critical information almost 24/7. People are already inundated, so yes, a balance is important.

I follow the “If, Then” model for my communications plans. List the triggers as “If’s”. If something in this category, or similar to it happens “Then” do this. The “If’s” are the triggers, the “Then’s” are the action. If a “Press Release goes out with a program’s contact information” Then “notify the program as much in advance as possible, send a copy of the press release, and provide the staff FAQs for when the the calls start coming in.” This seems like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised how often I hear and see the “If’s” happening without the “Thens”. All the best!