Myth of "An Internal Customer"
Honestly is there an internal customer? The term “Internal Customer” has been so over used that it has become a cliche, losing it’s original meaning. The term Internal Customer was originally used in the field of Management Science (MS). However it was later popularized by Joseph Juran, the management consultant known for his dedication towards quality management in companies, especially factories.
The initial use of the term Internal customers was meant to refer to ‘users’. This user refers to people who will utilize the output of another department or unit. Thus the term internal and external customer was born. External customer refers to customer/consumers outside the company who are users of the product/services of the company and internal customer refers to user of the product/services of another department/unit. The use was purely for technical differentiation.
However the term was later extended to reflect management styles, teamwork, interdepartmental communication etc. The extension went beyond technical relationships between departments and individuals in the company (known as the hard areas) to include the soft areas of attitude, experience, teamwork etc. This is when you will find bosses promoting teamwork by asking the employees to view and treat another department like their own customer. What seem shocking is that even trainers and consultant preach this gospel when they themselves cannot treat their own receptionist or account’s clerk like a customer.
The thing is that first we need to be truly honest with ourselves and answer this question: “Can I see and treat the accounts department or the purchasing, marketing, IT, technical support; as our own customer?” And that means you work to give the other department your best, take all of their nonsense and pacify yourself by saying with a smile: “Oh well… they are after all my customers.”
The problem lies with the word – Customer. The very word suggests to our mind that it is business transaction, money and that there is a direct monetary benefit that will come out of this transaction. These things are not that apparent when we deal with another department (at least not as direct as with real customers). So why are we swimming against the current to beat the hell out of our team to get them to except the other colleagues as customers. Let’s face the fact… it is not going to happen. The other department may be your internal customer from Juran’s standpoint of management science. But they are definitely not customers from the standpoint of our interaction and operation on a daily basis. Internal Customer is a Myth.
The answer is Partner. Instead of beating on the workforce to accept the idea of internal customer (which the brain tickles itself every time you hear it); why don’t use a term that our psychology and conscience would accept. Partner is a much more acceptable term.
In sales and customer service, we talk about maturing the seller-buyer relationship. This maturing process consumer-to-partner starts from a Consumer to a Customer to a Client and then a Partner. When a person buys something from us through a third party or a middleman, they are consumers to us. When they buy it from us, they become our customer. A client refers to a relationship where the seller acts as an advisor. This could be when the product or service requires guidance or follow up. Such examples would be like an attorney, wellness centres, fitness instructor and to some extent even real estate agents. The third stage is called the Partner. This is when the buyer and seller have formed a powerful bond that is glued by trust, transparency, mutual respect and an interest in each other’s success. We are talking about a powerful relationship that is productive to both.
The situation with a work team is that by default they are in a situation of partners. The systems, processes and daily activities are all centred around a partnership-like relationship rather than a customer relationship. So why would we want to ‘de-mature’ (if that term makes us understand) that relationship to a customer-vendor relationship. Taking a customer situation, you would probably call one of your customer Mr Goldwin or Ms Johnson in the earlier meetings. But in a partnership relationship, you would conveniently refer to them with their first name. Wouldn’t it look weird for a person who calls someone Tim all the while to one day call him Mr Goldwin?
While I am not saying that you will call your colleagues by their surname in an internal customer situation; the weirdness of treating a colleague as a ‘customer’ is as absurd as that. So the better alternative would be to motivate the team to accept one another as partners. This can be done by building the trust in the team, practicing a sense of openness at the leadership level, making everyone in the team feel special for their contribution and showing how their personal successes depend on the team’s successes. Team members are not internal customers but Partners. Lets be honest with ourselves.
Source by Jegatheeswaran Manoharan