The term customer is most commonly associated with consumers who purchase goods or services. However, Joseph Juran, the famous management consultant, taught that organizations have both external and internal customers.
The external customer is the person who purchases the goods or services, while the internal customer is defined as anyone within an organization, who at any time is dependent on anyone else within the organization.
We all understand the importance of taking care of the external customer (the people who purchase our products and services), but successful organizations recognize the importance of taking care of the internal customers – other employees and stakeholders.
For example, if a secretary is dealing with computer issues, the IT department considers that person an internal customer and makes as much of an 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 impact the quality of the product or service the external customer receives.
Whether the internal customer is the receptionist (the customer experience starts with her so it’s best to not overlook her), the warehouse manager, or the call center representative, every person is important to delivering a great product or service.
Cultural Working Experience
Taking care of internal customers impacts an organization’s culture and working environment.
Employees want to feel valued and appreciated for what they bring to the table. And the way employees meet the needs of each other influences this very important employee experience.
For example, if the receptionist isn’t given the information needed to answer caller questions, she not only fails at her responsibilities but also feels like an afterthought in the information communication chain.
Speeds Up Systems and Processes
Bottlenecks occur when employees are waiting for other employees to provide the product, service, or information necessary to perform their job duties.
For instance, if a purchasing agent is waiting for a department order, that delay can affect the ordering process, which can result in the order not arriving on time for a customer.
5 Ways To Improve The Internal Customer Experience
1. Create Service Standards
Employees should be held accountable for responding to a co-worker’s request within a predetermined period of time.
One tool that many organizations use to manage this is called service standards.
Many businesses will define their standards of service and train employees on how they are expected to behave when interacting with customers.
Service standards not only improve response times for external customers but also those internal customers.
This tool is used to set the expectations for employee behaviors that impact the customer experience by setting standards for response times for things like emails, phone calls, or internal requests.
2. Develop Employee Training
Employees should be taught about the importance of meeting the needs of all customer groups.
This includes a heightened awareness of how taking care of other employees’ needs has a direct impact on the external customer experience.
This is a training opportunity to help employees understand expectations for complying with service standards and to address any issues or questions related to meeting those standards.
3. Manage Employee Performance
Standards and training are important, but unless employees are held accountable for expected behaviors, these are merely exercises in futility.
This is why it’s important to have a performance review process that incorporates expectations for employee behaviors, with specific employee goals, that are tied to pay and reward systems.
4. Job Swap
It can be a valuable exercise to have employees (from related – dependent departments) meet and explain to each other what they do and how they do it.
For instance, when I worked in healthcare, employees who worked in the patient registration department were required to work 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 what they did affected those down the information supply chain.
5. Create Process Improvement Teams
Use employees to help resolve internal process issues or departmental problems by creating a team that represents the entire process.
In the healthcare example, a team to reduce the billing cycle time would include members from the patient registration department as well as members from the billing department.
Having all perspectives involved in the problem-solving adds clarity to problem resolution.
Customers pay the bills (and our salaries) so taking care of their needs is a vital aspect of business success.
This includes taking care of the needs of the internal customers – who have a direct impact on the external customer experience.
The goal would be for employees to demonstrate as much of an effort to satisfy the needs of their internal customers, as the business does on meeting the needs of those consumers that purchase their products and services.