Stop Snubbing Your Internal Customers

February 15, 2011

Who is an internal customer? A simple definition of an internal customer is anyone within an organization who at any time is dependent on anyone else within the organization.

An example of an internal customer may be someone in the payroll department. Let’s say this payroll person is dependent on managers from various departments to call in the employee payroll on time. If a manager is late or doesn’t report payroll properly, then the payroll person can’t do his or her job, which is getting payroll checks out on time. The manager failed his or her internal customer.

This internal customer can be someone you work for as well as someone who works for you. At first you might think that because this person works for you they would always be your internal customer. After all, you’re the boss! WRONG! You are dependent on him or her to help you with you responsibilities, but that person is just as dependent on you to get the right information and training so that they can do the best job possible. It goes both ways.

The internal customer may be a situational customer. They might be depending on someone inside the company at a specific time for a specific reason, maybe once a week or even once a year. But if organizations are to run like well-oiled machines, keeping customers both inside and outside happy is an absolute necessity.

From the Top Down
Customer service has to be a total company effort. It can’t just be the frontline who deals with the outside customers that buy your products and services. The frontline needs the support of everyone within the organization.

The traditional structure of a company can be visualized as a triangle or pyramid. The CEO is at the point and at the base are the front line employees, with layers of management in between. The chain of command flows down. The responsibility to each level of management and every employee flows down.

In the 1980s, Jan Carlzon, the former president of Scandinavian Airlines, turned the pyramid upside down with his best-selling business book, Moments of Truth. He emphasized the importance in dealing with the outside customer. He said that rather than lower-level employees serving higher levels, it should be at least a two-way street, if not the exact opposite. He flip-flopped the pyramid and put the customers at the top and the upper management, including the CEO and president, at the bottom.

This is the root of internal service. It is the understanding that everybody supports everybody else in the organization.

A company who has an excellent service reputation didn’t get it without everyone in the company being a part of the service strategy. Someone once said that if you are not working directly with the outside customer, you are probably working with someone who is. Everyone within your organization has an affect on the outside customer.

Starting an internal service program is simple. Virtually every technique you have read or learned about general customer service applies to the internal customer as well. Small changes in basic terminology will need to be made. Companies that practice outstanding customer service find it is easier to attract and keep customers. Companies that practice outstanding internal service find it easier to attract and keep good employees. Employees who practice outstanding internal service find it easier to keep and enhance their careers.

So, take care of your internal customers and create MOMENTS OF MAGIC!

Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is a professional speaker and Wall Street Journal best-selling author who works with companies who want to develop loyal relationships with their customers and employees.

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