Internal and External Hospitality

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As I write this, I’ve just LinkedIn connection request blasted my incoming colleagues from Woo – Welcome aboard, all! – and it brings front-of-mind something that I’ve been thinking about for some time; the way that we offer hospitality not just to our customers, but to our colleagues.

I’ve written before about how Hospitality and Service are different ideas, and should be thought of as different tools in a broader toolbox. Another distinction, and one that I think is even easier to miss, is the paired concepts of internally and externally directed Hospitality, and internally and externally directed Service.

The distinction between internal and external is a line drawn around your customers. Any hospitality or service efforts that are in place for the sake of your customers are external efforts. In general, this is where many people and companies stop thinking about hospitality and service – after all, it is called customer service, right?

The way that your company, your employees, treat everyone outside of the customer bubble, that is internal. That means that the way you interact with your vendors? External, both hospitality and service. Let’s talk through some examples.

Let’s say you work for a dairy company. There is a real us vs. them divide, with folks who work in the office generally behaving somewhat rudely to the delivery drivers and warehouse staff. That’s poor internal service. If that bad attitude spills over into internal systems and processes – say, forms that are difficult to use or requiring new and cumbersome busy work – that then becomes poor internal hospitality.

Let’s say you work for a top restaurant in your city. Servers are required to take ‘Kitchen Courses,’ which expose them to how the back of house staff work, and in turn spending time with the servers improves the kitchen’s understanding of the stresses of the serving floor. The interactions between the two teams are considerate and generous – excellent internal service. However, the company has a strict no-side-jobs culture, strongly discouraging employees from pursuing employment elsewhere – I’d argue that is pretty poor internal hospitality.

Let’s say you work at a small software startup. Your software is hugely popular, and you’re hiring staff as quickly as you can. These new folks are onboarded into a highly collegial and tight-knit community that is happy to have them (good service), but the administrative, HR and process debt is adding up, meaning that the internal tools that do exist are shoddy and poorly maintained, and the company is weeks behind on 401K paperwork – poor internal hospitality.

I would argue that not only is there more to hospitality than your customer facing efforts, I would also argue that, of the people to whom you want to offer outstanding hospitality and service, your customers should be the last in line. But that’s a topic for another time.

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