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How to deal with Internal customers ?

Author joshijoshi_naresh
#1 | Posted: 11 Jul 2008 04:17 
Hi ! to all Members

I want to ask all of you a question that how to deal internal customers? Is there any harm to treat them like external customer?

Author ayaree
#2 | Posted: 11 Jul 2008 17:25 
Naresh (I still like that name): I think there are a lot of similarities between internal and external customer service. I wouldn't say that you would need to apply the very same wording and behavior in an internal context. To me, the externally facing behavior would be different and for good reasons.

One of the things I remember hearing from someone internally was that whenever she comes to my team for something, it seems like they're only working on her program or account. (That meant she got the information she was looking for right away and would not have thought there were dozens of other things that go on in that department for other accounts. That was a sign that she was being treated like a customer who needed knowledge where she sought it, and she got it. And obviously I liked hearing about it.)

You probably wouldn't talk to someone internally the same way that you would with an external customer in a lot of cases.

So, treat them like an external customer? Well, I guess the answer is Yes when it comes to demonstrating knowledge or supplying them with something. Any indicators of excellence (sufficient knowledge, timely response, complete response - whatever matters to you when you think of excellent delivery to a request) would share the same core principle of being armed with information and applying it well. But does that also mean you would use the same ways of expressing yourself, the same style? Probably No in some cases, because that might feel like an unnecessary distancing through the conversation. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I don't like to hear a lot of scripting when I call a Customer Service Center of some kind is that I find the "script" of "nice, courteous language" to use is quite robotic and it feels like that script is SEPARATING me from what I want to obtain. It feels like I am forced into acting out what the script-owner has and not just make up my own lines of speech and rely on that person to help with THEIR own lines of speech and brain. That can equate to customer goals not being met easily.

So if there is someone internal that wants to get at the heart of something without having to abide by procedures they weren't hoping to hear (and if they have this in common with an external customer like me), then there you have another similarity.

Author joshijoshi_naresh
#3 | Posted: 14 Jul 2008 02:24 
Thanks Ayaree. I appreciate your thoughts.

Author johnny458
#4 | Posted: 16 Jul 2008 09:43 
hello naresh,

Customers are Customers - it doesnt really make a difference wether they are 'internal' or 'external'. Very often, we think we can handle 'internal' customers in a much more 'casual' manner and give more importance to the 'external' customers. In my opinion, this is a line of thinking we have to change.

As customer service personnel, it is our responsibility to provide customers (both external & internal) with the same, high level of service - so that both of them share the same kind of experience - which essentially has to be pleasant, exceptional, quick and competitive. That is the only way we can make a difference to each customer and that will be why they will keep comming back to us (the company we work for.)

Finally, can we say "There is a very very thin line that runs between internal and external customers!" - NO ! Each customer is as important as the other and each of them deserve our undivided attention -each time and whenever they interact with us, in Customer service !


Author KarenSB
#5 | Posted: 17 Jul 2008 06:29 
I agree with Johnny, and in fact, I'm quite passionate about this topic.

It's been my experience that Customer Service has traditionally been the lowliest department in an organization. Staffed by entry level people due to budgeting and a common perception that the job description is better suited for the less educated; no representation at the strategic table (Hello????); getting "lumped" into an entirely different (and often "at odds") department, etc. As an example, I know of a front-facing global service department that during a recent reorganization was moved under the directon of the IT department.

Imagine that!!! People who deal with 100% of this organization's customers at the highest levels (upper management), suddenly reporting to IT, and come on folks, we know that living, breathing humans and the complexities they bring are not in an engineer's comfort zone. I can't think of a better scenario to correctly use the military term, SNAFU.

The more we portray that we are not worthy (by listening, speaking, dealing with internal customers in a more casual, perhaps even slip-shod manner), the less respect we deserve.

The attitude of internal customer VERSUS external customer simply has to be abolished! THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE.

If a rose is a rose is a rose, does it not also hold true that a customer is a customer is a customer?

For some organizations, internal customers are all there are. If we subscribe to the same-old same-old belief system, especially that we can and should talk "differently" to them, exactly where is professionalism, pride in self and organization, motivation and drive to succeed? What would make anyone even WANT to get out of bed and do the job day after day?

I am a professional Customer Service Manager, and I am damn proud of it. No matter who you are, you are going to get 100% of me and my staff. Each and every time you reach out for help, we are going to be there. Each and every time we are going to move mountains to help you. Each and every time we are going to provide you with professionalism, courtesy, respect...and the best answers and the best solutions we possibly can.

Because if I don't do that, if I am not that, then I am nothing at all.

Period. End of story.


Author uaruks
#6 | Posted: 19 Jul 2008 07:52 
In my own opinion, both categories of customers deserve all the attention needed. But whichever way you look at it, external customers should be given more priority and attention than the internal ones. The reason being that the external customer expects more from you than the internal one who already understands the workings of your organisation. In summary, both should be treated the same way but more attention and recognition should be given to the external customer.

Author joshijoshi_naresh
#7 | Posted: 20 Jul 2008 21:41 
Dear Mr. Johnny, Mr. Karen & Mr. Uaruks, thanks a lot for your thoughts.

Author ayaree
#8 | Posted: 21 Jul 2008 12:55 
Johnny and Karen, I can see you are really sticking to your guns when it comes to your view that they really ought to be the same. That differs from me somewhat, and that is fine with me. I just can't bring myself to see them as the same bearer of fruit in all cases. What I am really hearing from you two folks on the "internal" side equates with either interpersonal skills in a company setting or a strong spirit and work ethic, which are things I do stand by an awful lot, and I find myself rapping about those kinds of topics more than customer service stuff a lot.

But let me examine for a moment why I think the blanket view (no such thing as a difference between internal and external) is not the way to go every minute of the day. You have Mrs Johnson waiting for a reply on her X topic and at the same time you have Harry in Dept B coming round to see if he can get the best he can out of those intelligent CSRs who were so helpful the last time they helped jazz up his ppt presentation for a client he was wooing. Mrs Johnson represents $1MM in revenue to our company year after year, while Harry, frankly, is only able to bring in clients that last for 6 months and they are all less lucrative to us and come in at not even half a million annually. Naturally, I am going to value Mrs Johnson, my external customer above Harry and all his enterprising initiatives through my staff, because the larger picture shows me that Mrs Johnson IS more important. Now if I thought that Mr MacGregor could wait an extra day to get X kind of attention while offering up half a day of my team member's time to help out Harry's teammate Andrew on something that could represent something huge for our company and all the facts and figures that my guy or gal could offer would be worth the sacrifice in my team coverage, then I would prioritize the internal customer in that situation and let them utilize my person's contributions and undivided attention, etc.

See where I am coming from? I think this is a lot like the fact that there are an infinite number of structures to sentence formation, the circumstances are going to vary.

And on the internal "speech" factor, I agree it is important to put one's best foot forward and set the bar high (since it is easier to sag or drop downward than it is to climb upward). But by the same token, I think there has to be an element of comfort in certain situations, so that they are "natural," and that is not a term that is etched in stone. I mean, if a CSR knows a neighboring member of the company quite well, and have been in contact umpteen times, I don't think it would make a lot of sense for there to be a language that creates an unnecessary barrier of newness between the two people. I am not saying the CSR should yawn or chew gum and be that "down to earth" with the person just because it is an internal context, but I think we are forgetting that the thing a CSR may be providing to an internal customer is also a context of collaboration, and they are part of the same team from that different perspective.

I see elements of the answers you have that are agreeable to me when it comes to certain attributes I would want in excellent providers of customer service - nay, of EMPLOYEES. But I just don't get on the same wavelnegth with you about them being the very same thing deserving the very same resource in all cases.

Not going to go into the "entry-level" thing just now, and I definitely know it is a pain in the neck to confront mindsets that view people as "junior." I also am rather passionate about that topic.

Author KarenSB
#9 | Posted: 22 Jul 2008 08:43 

I've been in situations which still exist, and for more than one organization, where the only customers are internal. NOT that the organizations didn't have external customers, but wherein my role specifically was to serve internal only. I fail to see how I could possibly be less professional, or where my focus could be less intent, etc. They were my only "bearers of fruit" if you will, and they got 100%. I fear the slippery slope of differentiation, and simply do not subscribe to it at all.

I agree entirely with Uaruks...when the CSM and CSRs are serving internal AND external, then external are absolutely the priority.

I've also had situations where the internal customers perceived their needs to be greater than those of the external customers...and there was no changing that mindset (especially of the founder). The approach I use is to make sure that those requests came only to me, allowing the CSR staff to do their jobs, non-interruptus, with the externals.


Author ayaree
#10 | Posted: 22 Jul 2008 19:16 
Karen, it seems like we are singing from the same hymn book, maybe just different verses.

In my initial reply to Naresh I mentioned an example where a person within my organization sought something from my department and that person had what stands out to me as a good customer service experience within a company. That was an in-person visit in that instance, but I know there had been calls from that person by remote too. What was meaningful to me came out of the remark that "it seemed like they're only working on my account," and there was no secret that we were working on lots of accounts for other people. Our world was a lot bigger than that person's request. Some people would want to focus on that as an instance of good resource management, others as one of organizational skills on the part of my CSR, and still others as an instance of motivating people (to shine for the right people with what they have to offer to others whose perceptions count in an organization with lots of opportunities). This memory came into my mind as an example of internal customer service (that went well - there have been other brands) in response to the question about whether the external mode can work for the internal mode.

When you say you agree with Uaraks that an external customer trumps an internal one, the interpretation I get there is different from the one I got from you earlier. Instinct tells me, "Yes, an external customer sounds like the priority" for lots of reasons, tangible and intangible, financial and ethical. You say it is a slippery slope to allow for "differentiation," but you do indicate you see a purpose for differentiation (between internal and external customers). This may come across as "cross-examination," but my focus here is to demonstrate where I think we are sharing principles but just not connecting in our language somehow. But that is only my take.

This would not be applicable for everyone in all cases, but sometimes (it has happened for me), one can fathom an internal customer being more important than an external one, especially if they are conducting a matter that ties into an external customer issue that happens to have more serious consequences than others at hand. Or if is tied into business development that is significant, and worth the "disruption" (which it definitely is) to regular customer service routines in place. I talked about that type of perspective in my reply to you and Johnny. Not all companies will have the kind of environment that include the scenarios I am trying to describe; others would have these scenarios playing out rampantly.

I imagined Naresh to be contemplating an action (maybe a reaction) in his question about the possible benefit to treating internal customers like external ones. There could have been some thought there into applying what works for external to internal. For me the first thing that matters in customer service is information and how it is used. It's substance. That caring about substance will come out as good customer service for internal and external. Style is something that needs to shift gears according to the inflections (language and anywhere the word POLISHED can be used). Courtesy sounds like it falls within the realm of style, but courtesy starts with substance for me. (Scripts and nice words don't mean something to me; what I asked for means something to me.) "Professional" grows with a mastery of substance and style together that fits the situation (an ayaree interpretation of the word). Using my definition, I don't see where I would be expecting anybody would be less "professional" in their internal service role (people armed with information, using it effectively) simply because they are not exerting these efforts or that mastery externally. But I do see where the "source" or the customer type can matter and present choices for best action when both internal and external are in the equation. Blanket absence of a difference for internal and external? That doesn't make sense to me, and I have suggested examples where a business needs this kind of flexibility.

Karen, your posts are rather energizing, besides well-written. There might be more hymns to sing, and it's OK by me if they are different.

Thanks a lot.

Author KarenSB
#11 | Posted: 23 Jul 2008 19:49 
Sometimes an internal priority does trump an external one, even though I might not much like it. Unfortunately, Mr. Jimmy is right: you can't always get what you want.


PS - There *really* is a Mr. Jimmy, and he *really* did say that. Mick and the boys simply put it to music :-)

Customer Service Forum Customer Service Manager Forum / Customer Service Forum /
 How to deal with Internal customers ?

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