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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?

Be intentional