Day in and day out every business – large or small – ponders how to improve their customer service and customer relations. Successful businesses are efficacious at maintaining customer service and relations. They understand that their window to sell and promote their goods and services in the present, and in the future, depends on the service they provide to their customers and the relationships they build with their customers. There are two pieces to customer service and customer relations however – one is the external customer; the second is the internal customer. There is a significant body of research and practical applications on external customers; but not as much on internal customers. My hypothesis is that businesses will not reach their full potential without focusing on internal customer service and customer relations; in additional to their focus on the external customer.
What is an “internal customer?”
An internal customer is any person/group/team/division who is the recipient of another person/group/team/division’s work product and/or service. For example, in a manufacturing organization, the packing department is an internal customer of the process department who processes the product to be packed; in a financial institution, the customer service manager is an internal customer of the human resource department who hires the employees of the customer service manager; in a hospital, the billing department is an internal customer of the physician who documents the orders from which the billing department must code and invoice…
How do we focus our efforts on our “internal customer?”
To begin, we must identify all of our relationships within our organization where one person/group/team/division provides a product or service to another (all of our internally dependent relationships). This will identify our internal customers and the internal service/product providers. Once we have identified these relationships, we must develop an understanding of these. We need to ask questions to identify the challenges, needs and values of each group – the internal customers and internal service/product providers. Next, we need to work to resolve the challenges, and align the needs and values of each. We need to stop along the way and evaluate our work to ensure we are staying the course. We should regroup if needed and then go back to our task at hand. Along the way, we need to ensure those involved understand the relationship between an internal service/product provider and internal customer. We also need to ensure that their values align with our organization’s values. All of the paths need to lead in the same direction.
What are the dangers of not focusing on our “internal customers?”
Businesses who do not focus on their internal customer service and internal customer relations experience:
- Disengagement by internal service/product provider and internal customer
- Turnover by internal service/product provider and internal customer
- Missed opportunities
- Increased risk
- Reduced efficiency
- Reduced effectiveness
- Increased expenses
- Reduced profit
What are the benefits of focusing on our “internal customers?”
Businesses who focus on their internal customer service and internal customer relations experience:
- Recognized opportunities for improvement
- Ability to implement improvements
- Job satisfaction for internal service/product provider and internal customer
- Better resource planning and resource allocation
- Increased effectiveness
- Increased efficiency
- Focus on the big picture
- Reduced turnover
- Better time management
- Improved cooperation
- Improved communication
- Healthy negotiation
Where do we go from here?
We need to recognize that our internal customers are just as valuable (if not more valuable) than our external customers. If our internal needs and values are not aligned and met, we will not be able to service/provide for our external customers to our full potential. We need to work to identify and understand the challenges, needs and values of our internal customers and internal service/product providers. We then need to remove the challenges, and develop and implement strategies to align values, and meet needs to improve both internal customer service and internal customer relations.
© 2013 Heather Williams-Cavaretta