Focus on internal customers, even during a pandemic.
When the reality of COVID-19 began to sink in, it felt like everyone was flooding inboxes with messages of “here’s our plan” or “we’re all in this together.” Many organizations were intently focused on getting a reassuring message out. Agency concern for the public and other external stakeholders was the initial priority. Now several weeks in, most federal program managers seem to have established a regular cadence and tone for their updates and guidance.
As you adjust to this new normal, you can now turn your focus to your internal customers. These internal customers are your colleagues from other parts of your organization that depend on your team’s work.
Whether internal or external, customer engagement is all about relationships and trust. In the old world of three weeks ago, many of us cultivated these internal connections in-person, during face-to-face meetings, over lunch, or chats in the hallway. Now, as we work from home, it’s more important than ever to reassure your peers and partners within your own organization that you are “open for business” and committed to serving their needs—even if they can’t see you doing it.
Start by reaching out. Tell them in an email or an audio recording what you are doing, as a leader, to keep your employees safe, healthy, and motivated. Share how you and your team are not skipping a beat in delivering the solutions and services they expect regardless of your location. Are there upcoming activities that could be affected, like planned group meetings, technology deployments, deadlines, travel? Be honest; let them know that there may be delays, extensions or even cancellations. Admit that there may be some bumps in the road, but that your devotion to their success is unwavering. Inform of your contingency plans—even Plans B and C—should you need to shift course. And with genuine compassion, make sure they know you care about their health and safety and that of their own teams.
Establish regular touchpoints. While you may not be able to gather in your office or conference room for weekly status meetings, you can leverage approved online meeting options like MS Teams, WebEx, Skype for Business, even FaceTime, to meet by video, share your screen, and do some whiteboarding. Sure, conference calls can be effective, but there’s nothing like actually seeing each other, especially in these challenging times, that can bring a feeling of personal connectedness. Kids and pets invited!
Ask what they need. Remember that they are experiencing the same or similar challenges. Are there tips you can give about effectively moving employees to telework? Are there ad-hoc reports they need to make their job easier now? Think about the future; what will they require from you when this crisis is over, and they transition back to the office? Work together to plan for it now.
Report your accomplishments and request feedback. In a virtual world, transparency is key. If they are not already in place, develop dashboards that show the status of your projects, progress against goals, and metrics that matter to your customer. Share these reports regularly with your internal customers and employees. Doing so will instill a level of confidence of that you continue to deliver seamlessly. And ask what you could be doing better, especially now.
Do the same for your team, especially the compassion part. This is a time of tremendous change and uncertainty. While you feel pressure to meet your customers’ needs, so do they. Connect with them often, celebrate their successes, encourage their well-being, and most of all, be the caring leader they need.
While you navigate this new normal with your colleagues, you can connect with your internal clients and ensure they know they can count your services and support. “While there is no playbook for this, the brands [organizations] demonstrating empathy, acknowledging how they’re adapting their business, and transparent about how they’re taking care of their team are the most successful,” says Simon Hill, North American president of consultancy FutureBrand.
Lee Frothingham is customer experience consultant and communications strategist with Wheelhouse Group.