Servicing the internal customer to better service the external customer
The popular philosophical and mystical saying goes: as within, so without. In the business world, this principle is demonstrated time and time again. And when it comes to customer success, it is no exception.
Whether you look at case studies on internal company culture or the reasons behind the existence of organisational development and HR specialists. It becomes clear that the team that drives results matters. This might sound quite obvious and it is. Yet the emphasis on the end-user or bottom line sometimes outweighs the attention that is given to the team that makes the magic happen in the first place.
In the previous article, I spoke about a distinction I like to make when I look at companies. That is to distinguish between the internal customer and the external customer. While the external customer is what most of us think of when we refer to the end-user. There is another customer involved in the value chain that is more introspective in nature. This is your internal customer, your team, your employees. All the many links in the chain that are involved in the process that excludes that final moment of consumption by the client.
I highlighted that by driving internal customer success through increased employee engagement, you directly influence external customer success. That for many also means the bottom line. While we discussed the importance of having an engaged team, the focus here will be on how to go about servicing your internal customer.
The internal customer:
I would like to move your attention away from a siloed construct view. Towards a more dynamic view when referring to the internal customer. We need to understand the broader chain of interactions within the company. This will enable us to be more specific about the kind of service we require for the internal customer. This includes your internal team and departments involved in production and delivery. However, I would also like to include other functions that interact on this level. Here I’m referring to supply chain, logistics, HR departments, Customer Service, etc. These functions are in constant interaction with or part of the company’s internal team and are therefore vital in understanding how to go about servicing the internal customer.
How do we go about servicing this complex and dynamic entity? In this example, let’s use a company that has accounts, sales and marketing, IT, logistics, shareholders as well as an executive board within its structure. All these departments will need to interact with each other on a regular basis. In order to do so, they will require certain criteria to be able to perform their functions correctly. These criteria can be applied across the board and are what I like to refer to as the components of internal customer service.
Understanding of expectations:
The first component of internal customer service is the understanding of expectations. When the accounts team deals with logistics, employees, IT or sales, there will be different expectations based on the different functions these departments perform. Therefore, the expectations in terms of what kind of data, input or interaction is required by the accounts department will differ from the other departments. This criterion can be applied to any of the other functions as well when they need to perform their duty. When there is not enough clarity on what the expectations are, the result can be costly in terms of time and therefore money.
The next component of internal customer service is understanding responsibilities. Similar to the understanding of expectations, understanding responsibilities will be function-specific. For example, the accounts team will be expected to assist various departments in fulfilling their responsibilities and vice versa. If the logistics team needs the freight or transport account to be paid by a certain time in order to perform its function. It will require the accounts team to be aware of its responsibility in this regard. If on the other hand, the logistics department decides on using a new transport service. It will need to follow the correct channels to set up the new supplier with the accounts department. This concept can once again be applied to any of the functions in the team. As each team will have its own responsibilities to own up to.
The third component of the internal customer we take a look at is Company cohesiveness. Here we are talking about understanding and alignment to a common goal. Working together as a well-oiled machine aware of its responsibilities and expectations, aligned with the company strategy. This ultimately impacts the quality of the product or service being delivered to the end-user. To bring about increased company cohesiveness, however, requires the introductions of the fourth and final component of internal customer service: Communication.
Communication is the vital ingredient that cements all other building blocks into something concrete – a high performing team. To service our internal customer we will, therefore, need to correctly communicate the various components we have discussed thus far: understanding of expectations, understanding of responsibilities and the importance of company cohesiveness. Increased and thorough communication in a team environment can only happen if we move away from working in silos.
The goal is to get your internal team to a level where cross-departmental and cross-functional communication happens in a way that is aligned with the company’s strategy. Where everybody is clear on their responsibilities and expectations. Ultimately it comes down to good company culture. If you are looking at increasing your customer success, it might be time to ask yourself if you are servicing your internal customer in a way that gears it for maximised results.