Introducing Wholistic Customer Service

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We’ve all had it happen – those times when another employee or a leader failed to provide us  with needed information or tools do our job effectively. And we have many ways to explain it away. We might call it “politics”, or say it’s a personality conflict, or that they were simply too busy or preoccupied. What we often fail to see it as, however, is a failure to provide good customer service, even though that’s exactly what it is.

Our traditional views of customer support focus almost exclusively on serving the external client of the parent company, or the company product’s end-user. When we think of external customer service, there are usually clear, easily-understood benefits that drive outstanding service. These benefits include financial benefits to your company through sales, abstract benefits such as brand loyalty and social networking, and personal benefits (for both agent and client). These personal benefits might include job satisfaction and engagement, problems resolved, higher pay for the agent, and a service-need loop (job security).

The need for stellar service usually stops there, however, since our end goal is merely to have happy consumers who will continue to purchase and use the product. Once we have pleased the external customer our job is done. This view of customer service typically results in several clear cultural phenomena within the company:

  • A linear view of customer service, many times expressed as “the customer is always right”
  • Only customer-facing employees are held responsible for providing good customer service.
  • Does not encourage dynamic information systems
  • Relies on a top-down, authority-based management model

Meh. We can do better.

Enter a radical concept that we will call “Wholistic” Customer Support, because it expands our view beyond the end user, and embraces a much larger view of who our customer is and what our services and products are. Contrasting with the cultural outcomes that we see in traditional customer service, when we enact Wholistic Customer Support we see the following:

  • An inclusive view of customer service in which the team operates more like an organism than a set of individuals
  • All levels become responsible to the expectation of providing customer service
  • Dynamic, multi-directional communication
  • Encourages a peer-based relationship between leadership and employees (but does not remove leadership authority or responsibility)

In Wholistic Customer Support every person and system that receives information or services is a customer, regardless of their position within or without the company. Special focus is placed on identifying each employee’s internal customers, and helping the employee identify what services they provide to those customers. At the core of internal customer service is the knowledge that accurate and thorough information and service begets more efficient processes and enables other internal users to do their job optimally. When the expectations of customer service are applied in this way, company cultures and information systems change and become much more dynamic and efficient. This, in turn, increases profitability and makes the direct benefits so enjoyed through external customer service even more attainable. Basically, everybody wins.

Internal customers are pretty much everybody who is NOT the end user of our product. Here are a few examples of Wholistic Customer Service applied internally that we can all relate to:

  • A supervisor provides resources to her employees in a timely fashion.
  • Customer Service Representatives leave accurate notes that their peers can follow.
  • Human Resources seeks recruits for open positions in a timely manner, as per requests made by project managers.
  • IT responds to needs for upgraded systems.

We all recognize that these are needed services, but we seldom view the recipients as customers. And therein lies the magic: with an eye on internal, or wholistic CS, we will be reminded that EVERYBODY should provide quality service to each other, as we are all customers of each other’s’ products. Empathy and willingness to help should be expected and offered to each other, the same as we would expect to give them to an external client.

It’s really a very simple change in how we view things, but it can have great results. Take a moment and review the various tasks that you perform in the course of your work. Ask yourself what products are you creating? Who is the recipient of those products? What specific needs must be fulfilled in order for you to provide excellent service to your internal customers?

Here at FCR we already do customer service par excellence, and many of us already provide Wholistic Customer Service even without knowing what it’s called. Well, now it has a name. Refer to it often as you aim to deliver better service to both your external and internal customers.


Dan Bowden
FCR Colleague
Grants Pass

Dan Bowden brings his customer service skills to FCR after a 14-year career in Human Resources at Harry & David Inc. When he’s not helping customers and co-workers, he’s usually found with his family and friends, exploring remote areas of Southern Oregon. He’s easily distracted by any mention of topics including edible and medicinal wild plants, survival skills, and Sasquatch.

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