Businesses rely on customers to pay the bills, pay employee salary, and to make a profit.
The term customer is most commonly associated with someone who purchases goods or services.
However, Joseph Juran, the famous management consultant, taught that organizations have both internal and external customers. And, internal customers have a direct link to a positive external customer experience.
The external customer is the person who purchases the goods or services.
In contrast, the internal customer is anyone within an organization who depends on anyone else within the organization to get their job done.
It is important to focus on internal and external customer service.
We all know the importance of taking care of the external customer (the people who purchase our products and services).
However, successful organizations recognize the importance of taking care of the internal customers – employees and any other stakeholders.
For example, if a secretary is dealing with computer issues, the IT department considers that person an internal customer and makes as much effort to meet her needs as the call center person does to take care of the external customers who call in for assistance.
Why Focus On Internal Customers?
Impact on External Customers
Internal customers directly link to the external customers and the quality of the product or service they receive.
Whether the internal customer is the receptionist (the service experience starts with her, so it’s best not to overlook her), the warehouse manager, or the call center representative – every person is important to delivering a great product or service.
Taking care of internal customers impacts an organization’s culture and working environment. An organization’s culture depicts simply, this is how we do things around here.
Employees need to feel valued and appreciated for what they bring to the table. The manner in which other employees meet their needs influences this experience.
For instance, if the receptionist isn’t given the information needed to answer caller questions, she fails at her responsibilities and feels like an afterthought in the information communication chain.
Speeds Up Systems And Processes
We have all experienced the frustration that comes with waiting on someone in the process. This is called a bottleneck.
Bottlenecks occur when employees wait for other employees to provide the necessary product, service, or information to perform their job duties.
For instance, if a purchasing agent is waiting for a department order, that delay can affect the ordering process. This delay can result in the order not arriving to the customer on time.
How To Improve Internal Customer Service?
1. Create Service Standards
Service standards help employees understand how your business expects employees to respond to those who rely on them for a product or service. Service standards are a mechanism to improve internal customer service.
Create standards of service for not only external but also internal customers. These standards set expectations for how to treat internal customers.
For instance, employees should be held accountable for responding to a co-worker’s request within a predetermined period of time.
Take the time to think through the process and set standards for response times for things like emails, phone calls, or internal requests.
Defined service standards help employees understand the expectations for interacting with all customer groups.
2. Employee Training
Employees should receive ongoing training for their job.
Teaching personnel should train employees on the importance of meeting the needs of all customer groups.
This includes a heightened awareness of how taking care of other employees’ needs directly impacts the external customer experience.
This training experience is an opportunity to set service standards and address any issues related to meeting those standards.
3. Manage Employee Performance
Standards and training are important, but unless employees are held accountable for expected behavior, these are merely exercises in futility.
This is why it’s important to have a performance review process that incorporates employee expectations with goals tied to pay and reward systems.
Managers should meet with employees regularly to provide feedback and answer job questions. This feedback should include tips for how to satisfy internal customers.
4. Job Swap
Most of us don’t know, what we don’t know. And knowing what another employee does can help understand our part of the work process.
It can be beneficial to have employees from related, dependent departments meet and explain what they do and how they do it.
For instance, when I worked in healthcare, employees who worked in the patient registration department worked in the patient billing department (and vice versa) as part of their training.
The billing department was on the receiving end of the patient registration information.
So, if there was an error in the registration process, it had a direct impact on the billers.
That’s why it was important for the patient registration employees to understand how they affected those down the information supply chain.
5. Process Improvement Teams
Successful organizations understand that improving how work gets done can speed up processes.
Use employees to help resolve internal process issues or departmental problems by creating a team representing the entire process.
In the healthcare situation, a team to reduce the billing cycle time would include members from the patient registration department and members of the billing department.
Having all perspectives involved in problem-solving adds clarity to problem resolution.
Customers Pay The Bills
Every business needs to recognize that customers pay the bills and salaries, so taking care of their needs is critical to business success.
This focus should include internal customers who have a direct impact on the external customer experience.
Try to help employees understand that they are responsible for putting forth as much effort into satisfying their internal customers as the external ones.
Can you name who the internal customers are in your business?