“Teresa, go outside and see what that person is doing.”

“What?“ I asked, startled, as I took off my headphones and looked at my manager, who was sitting a couple of desks in front of me.

“There!” she pointed, through the windows of our closed door HR office. “There is a woman sleeping on the table in the common room. Can you go look and see what’s going on?”

I followed orders and directed myself outside, hesitantly approaching the sleeping girl, who was lying down on top of the white table, all alone in that section of office. “Hey,” I said, shaking her gently, “I’m really sorry to disturb you, but you can’t sleep in here. Do you need anything?” The situation was bizarre, and I’d never seen anything like that.

Turns out this girl had been studying for her exams all night, laid down in a quiet area for a short nap during her lunch break, and woke up with me gently stirring her to waking life. She apologized profusely, thanked me for my help, and went back to her seat.

If you’re working in a typical HR department — which I did back in the day — it’s very likely that you would want to avoid this sort of contact with the alien life we would call “employees,” unless Sleeping Girl was causing trouble or someone filed a complaint. In turn, Human Resources were not seen by employees as a front-office department, but rather were treated as the complaints department or the back-office “Execute this!” team. My old manager only wanted us to see employees during specific hours of the day and on payroll days, hence the firmly closed department door with an A4 paper sign where we’d written our attendance hours.

However, as you might have read in my previous article, we don’t do traditional HR at Unbabel. Here, the People Ops teams have the power and, quite frankly, the endurance to change organizations from within thanks to our flexibility and adaptiveness. With this great power comes the great responsibility of customer centricity.

Employees are customers, too

We’ve all had to put on a happy face and deal with unpleasant and demanding customers (and, in my case, deal with people who think it’s OK to sleep on corporate furniture). It’s not easy! However, it shouldn’t deter us from connecting authentically with other humans, which in turn could keep us from being business partners who can quickly understand our collective needs and provide solutions.

Modern HR teams have the role of delivering a great experience to our employees — who are, after all, our internal customers—, which in itself will help our amazing front-facing teams providing better service to our external clients. Think of it as an endless number of customer serving Matryoshka dolls, inside a big organization. If we are claiming to help you serve customers in any language, improve your CSAT and provide better customer service overall, it’s only natural that we should aspire to deliver the same level of customer excellence internally. We should practice what we preach.

So how can we achieve this level of customer centricity in our internal strategy, in a way that facilitates operations and adds value to our management team?

Being employee centric

We can start by hiring strongly, for cultural fit. By that I don’t mean hiring the same profile over and over again, but instead hiring people that will reflect our core values while also adding to the culture and diversity of the company.

We can onboard our employees by creating a customer centric induction plan, which focuses on the external customers and on building practices and sharing information with internal teams. We can train for excellence and for soft skills, like communication, active listening, team work and collaboration (among others), which are essential in a fast-paced, growing company and are particularly valuable for people in customer-facing roles.

We can measure how our employees feel through engagement and culture surveys, to able to address concerns and make improvements in due time. We can also create HR processes and structures that set our employees up for success, without dragging them down with unnecessary bureaucracy. When the company-wide focus is on the customer, then all our internal processes should reflect that and be set up with that goal in mind.

By the way, we are doing all of these things, with a strong focus on our own customers’ experience — the employee journey. By looking at the lifecycle of an employee at Unbabel, we can look at what we are doing right and wrong and improve processes and efficiency. This has been a main focus of end of last year and we plan to launch it this quarter, with constant revision.

It seems to me that the traditional view of Human Resources prevents our professionals from realizing their full potential as contributors to the quality of an external service. Human Resources has always tended to be too distant to see what our internal customers are going through, what their struggles are, and what they are doing right. We need to add value — not only on an HR level, but also throughout Finance, Tech Ops, Office Management, etc. — and ultimately cultivate customer focus all across the organization.

We’re all in this together

Intuitively, we already know that unhappy customers are harder to work with, and happy customers are easier to serve. But besides this, we should be recognizing and rewarding people who show a collaborative mindset and approach, as our “build the tower” value sets out.

It’s become obvious that our external customer service will suffer if internal customer service is failing. We depend on other teams and other stakeholders every day to make things happen.

How can we eliminate language barriers and create understanding if we don’t remove the internal barriers that keep us from attaining our OKRs and goals?

And this is not only a reality in scale-ups like Unbabel, but all across the business spectrum. Internal customers should be treated with a quality, reliable, efficient and responsible service, that contributes to a culture that sets expectations for cooperation and collaboration. Nancy Friedman, founder and president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training of St. Louis, created the acronym WACFEO — We Are Customers For Each Other. I can’t think of a better way to describe it.