Since it is the Christmas season and most are buying last minute gifts for friends and loved ones (even if you’re just the budget approver), everyone reading this is a customer. You, at some time, have paid for goods or services. You are your own judge of whether you got what you paid for. You review on Amazon, you like or dislike on YouTube, you buy again (or not) and you recommend (or not). It is your opinion. You vote with your money.
Inside business organizations, our “internal customers” are defined as the groups/teams/people we hand off to in the value stream. It could be the next operator on the assembly line (think providing goods). It could be the quality or engineering team supporting operations (think providing services). We stress the importance of understanding what our internal customers’ needs are and challenging ourselves to provide. We develop organizations to collapse silos and build bridges across functional groups to ensure our “internal customers” are provided for.
I see a potential issue with being an “internal customer”. What power do you have as the receiver of the goods or services to get what you really need and not just take what is given? It’s not like you can complain on Yelp about it. And unlike our daily buying choices, you don’t get to choose where your goods or services come from. You are a “captive” customer based on whoever is providing it.
Healthy companies understand that for an organization to work, internal customers must have a voice. Leadership must be the microphone that amplifies the voice.
Just say no to the status quo
Don’t just accept status quo. Step up at a meeting and set the expectation of what your team needs as the “internal customer”. Setting clear expectations allows the provider of the goods/service to work their resource constraints and set priorities.
We the people, in order to form a more perfect handoff
Every organization is made up of people. If the internal customer is not getting what is needed, leaders need to determine if the issue is systemic to the group or if it is a low performing individual. Addressing the right issue ensures the “internal customers” are provided for correctly.
The customer is never wrong, unless they are
Accept internal customer complaints with a proverbial smile. The motto “the customer is never wrong” may work at times and may need to be adjusted at other times. You have a version of the story, the internal customer has their version of the story and somewhere in the middle is the right story. At the end of the day – if you take the time to listen (not just hear) the customer’s issue, only then will you really understand the value you provide to your “internal customer”. What if your team can help their team “win”? What would that look like?
Why wait when you can pro-activate
I think it was Machiavelli who once said, “A small problem is hard to see but easy to fix, whereas a large problem is easy to see but nearly impossible to fix.” What are you waiting for? Pro-actively ask your internal customer if they are getting what they need from you or from your team. Send out a survey. Hold a skip level meeting. Invite them to your desk for a cup of coffee and cookies. You own your output’s input and vice-versa. Not asking can be seen as not caring.
So the next time you hear of an internal customer complaint – ask yourself if you’ve taken the time to get to know your internal customer. If not, ask yourself why not?
SERVE: Value Input (fourth of five part series)
I do “value” a good cup of coffee…
Most people have things they value in life. Some folks tend to value stuff – flat screen TVs, cars, heirlooms. Some tend to value traditions and family. Some value the small things life brings – good conversations, good books, a good cup of coffee.
You know what you value by what:
- you take care of
- you keep clean
- you keep in good repair
- you put time into
- you invest in
- you think about
- you look forward to
- makes you feel good
- makes you smile
When we talk about customer service, whether internal or external customers, we all know that we are supposed to listen to our customers. We know that it makes our customers feel good to be heard. Unfortunately, we think that all we have to do to “value input” is to listen to the customer. Do more surveys. Put more questions on the surveys. Be patient when they complain.
But is that really what “value input” means? Is it really only important that we act like we care what the customer says? As with respect and trust – this is a verb that points back to us, not at the customer. To truly “value input” means I am doing something WITH the input, not just gathering the input. It’s like the old Seinfeld episode where Jerry complains about a restaurant that “took” the reservation but failed to “hold” the reservation. Taking the data is only half the story. Acting on it is the other.
The customer rarely sees you do anything with the input. It means that I treasure the input; treat it as something important to my thought process, to how I act, to my decisions. Valuing input does not mean I do everything the input says, nor does it mean that the person providing the input is always told what I do with it.
Why do I want to “value input”? Because, through time I get better at meeting the needs of my customer.
How, then, do I “value input”. What does that look like?
- Change my attitude. I need to go from “asking for input cause everyone says I should”, to “seeking input cause I really want to know”. It is an internal difference that the customer may not be able to discern. Sometimes, we are really great actors. Everyone sees evidence that I value the customer because I take surveys, listen, ask questions. But if my behavior never changes then my decisions are still self-based. I truly “value input” when my behavior changes as a result.
- Process the input. Until I put value on the input, I am not willing to process what the input is saying. Without me valuing the input, I won’t be able to filter the input such that the cream rises to the top and the junk sinks to the bottom. Not all input is good, but if I don’t value it, I won’t sort it, and I won’t apply it.
- Judge not. When I stop judging the person providing input and start assessing the input, I am placing value on the input. Sometimes great people give poor input, sometimes difficult people give good input. Focus on the input, not the person giving it. What does the input tell you that could improve your deliverable.
- Identify the input sources. There are many different forms to get input from. Sometimes verbal (watch for the body language), sometimes written (start reading between the lines), sometimes actions (don’t assume they didn’t need your service, maybe they went around/over/under you) – input can be fluid. Are you actively looking for input even though it isn’t formally called input? If you value something, you grab hold of it whenever you run across it.
If you really want to get better, start putting value on the input you receive. In the end, your customer will be better served.
Now, I could say something corny like, “I value your input, please comment below.” Instead I’d like to offer you a chance to help make this blog better by answering the question, “What does valuing customer input mean to you?”