Improving Internal Communications: Best Practices

May 20, 2016

Customers are not the only group with whom we need to effectively communicate as we work to improve our quality of service. Effective communication between employees and leadership is critical to improving the customer experience. Front line employees interact with the public on a regular basis, and if employees do not have the information they need, or if they are not happy in their work, customers can see that.

Silhouettes of business people having discussions

Here are some tips to improve internal communications. Thank you to all the CX-COP members who contributed, especially Stephanie Thum (EXIM Bank), Jeremy Young (Social Security Administration), and Tanya McIlravy (USDA Farm Service Agency).

Intranet Site

  • Build a CX intranet site to give employees access to all the customer data available through your various systems, including: cycle time data, survey scores, communication materials and talking points for front line staff to customers.
  • Regularly add new content to your CX intranet site. Flag new items for employees by highlighting CX info on your agency’s intranet homepage.

Information Sharing

  • Regularly share customer data and feedback at all-hands meetings.
  • Before releasing new information to the public or to customers, make sure managers and employees get the information first —via email, all-hands meetings, intranet postings, or departmental meetings.
  • Create regular lobby slide shows relaying survey scores, customer quotes, and cycle time data. Archive the lobby slide shows on your CX intranet site.
  • Regularly share key customer data points with senior leadership, so they are armed with the data and information they need to answer questions.
  • Invite staff to listen in on stakeholder webinars, particularly those that are operationally oriented and designed to help current customers improve the ease of doing business. For employees, it is another layer of communication, if they have not already heard what we have presented.

Staff Meetings

  • Hold weekly meetings with representatives from throughout the agency to review and triage data (provided via a dashboard) around slow-moving transactions. To adequately prepare for these meetings, encourage staff to interact and review data with each other.
  • Share positive customer feedback with employees via regular staff meetings, highlighting behaviors and actions that made the experience great for the customer. Place positive comment cards and notes from phone calls into individual employee personnel files and performance reviews. Publicize and reward great customer service so high service standards spread throughout the office.
  • Negative CX feedback is also useful as a “lessons learned” training tool. Since negative feedback can be sensitive regarding employees, share it in general terms and be careful not to single anyone out. These are good “what not to do” lessons.
  • Share your own personal CX stories. Tell staff about a great experience you had at a store or restaurant. These real-life examples of the types of things people do to provide great customer service can sparks ideas for how we can improve the CX for our customers. Same goes for negative experiences… share examples of things employees should not do.
  • Discuss CX and customer service during every staff meeting.

Email Communications

  • Improve the formatting of internal communications, especially emails. Look for best practices on how to apply marketing principals and private sector styles to emails to increase open rates, even when a message is not task-related or ‘urgent.’
  • Develop a style/communication guide; include guidance on how to make communications easier to skim without missing important items. Apply external communication best practices to our internal customers as well!
  • Use collaboration software (such as IBM Connections or SharePoint) to foster collaboration and information sharing at all levels, and allow employees to control the amount and timing of information they receive via email. Archive emails as blog posts, so if they are deleted but needed later, the content can be easily located.
  • Encourage communications to be shared across the entire chain of command. Example: When the national office sends an email to all employees, the state office should forward it with additional context, and regional and local managers should do the same. Personalization is the key; add something important at each level, instead of just forwarding. The message should highlight action items, discuss significant changes, encourage participation, etc.
  • Establish standards around two-way communication. Emails should be acknowledged within 24 hours with an estimated time to be answered, preferably within a week at most. Provide a collaboration space for feedback and suggestions, and respond with quality responses. Encourage questions and find a way to mold the linear chain of command into a communications circle.

Bottom line, the more you socialize expectations and keep employees informed, the better service they can provide to your customers.

Alison Sturgeon works in the Office of the Chief Strategic Officer (OCSO) at the Social Security Administration (SSA). She serves as a member of the SSA/OMB Customer Service CAP Goal Management Team, overseeing the CAP Goal efforts across the government. She has worked at SSA for 7 years in various components, including Operations and Human Resources, before coming to OCSO.