What Is an Internal Customer?

October 3, 2016
What Is an Internal Customer? | Office worker handing file

One of the more popular concepts in modern customer experience thinking is the idea of the internal customer. But who exactly are internal customers, and why do they matter?

An internal customer is anyone in the organization who needs assistance or interaction from another to fulfill their job responsibilities. This manifestation can happen in virtually any direction organizationally and is only limited to the the fact that one party in the relationship depends on another.

What Are Examples of Internal Customers?

Internal customers can be anyone employees interact with in the organization as a regular part of their roles and responsibilities.

Yet, while the traditional customer relationship is generally only one way, internal customers can flow in any direction. As an example, let’s take a look at pilots and flight attendants on a commercial airplane.

The flight attendants are internal customers of the pilots. The pilots must provide both information and direction to the flight attendants so they can do their job.

Likewise, the pilots are also internal customers of the flight attendants. The pilots rely on the flight attendants to keep them aware of any issues in the cabin, to provide refreshments, and even to help secure the area when the cockpit needs to be opened in flight.

The key to identifying internal customers is looking for those you provide some form of “service” to or whom you manage. Subordinates should virtually always be thought of as internal customers, as managers owe them the information, guidance, and resources necessary for them to do their jobs.

Here are a few other examples of internal customers:

  • The wait staff and culinary staff would both be internal customers of the expediters in a restaurant.
  • Retail shift supervisors would likely consider their shift team, their managers, and the other shift supervisors all as internal customers.
  • The claims call center for an insurance agency might have internal customers that include the local branch, the account agent, the claims adjustor, and the accounts payable department.

Unless you are a company of one, you likely have team members that you should view as internal customers.

Why Is Focusing on Internal Customers Important?

In a word: culture.

Truly customer-centric cultures tend to rise above the petty squabbles that affect so many organizations: turf wars, “it’s not my job” syndrome, and putting low priority on the needs of other departments — among other challenges.

Internal friction leads to external friction. Unhappy internal customers deliver poor experiences.

However, just as the thinking around customers has grown over many decades from a transactional approach, where customers were not highly valued, to a relational approach, where customers are valued based on their potential lifetime value, the internal customer represents another shift in mindset.

By taking a service mindset and applying it to those we serve in the organization, we can minimize friction, increase efficiency, and maintain effectiveness.

Put more plainly, we can have happier teams and more satisfied customers.

When internal customers are valued, respected, and their needs fulfilled effortlessly, they not only begin to pay it forward to their own internal customers but also to their external customers as well.

Focusing on internal customers is a key aspect in creating a customer-centric culture.

Make sure that it is viewed as crucial part of your customer experience program.

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