What Is an Internal Customer? (With Examples and Tips)
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Employees and other important stakeholders can represent internal customers in a company. Developing internal customer relationships can help a company retain long-term employees and improve interactions between colleagues overall. It's important to learn more information about internal customers so you can determine whether creating best practices for them can help you succeed. In this article, we define what an internal customer is, explain how they differ from external customers, discuss the benefits of emphasizing internal customer relationships in a company, provide some examples of these relationships and list some helpful tips for improving them.
What is an internal customer?
An internal customer is an individual from an organization who receives a specific service from a staff member within the same organization. They're typically employees who perform a specific task that directly affects the job performance of another staff member. For instance, a person who manages a company's email address is an internal customer of a person who writes and designs content for all outgoing messages. Internal customers can also describe one department that similarly affects the daily operations of another.
Other key stakeholders can become internal customers in certain circumstances. For example, an executive board of a nonprofit organization oversees the responsibilities of an acting CEO or director and administers critical financial support to multiple areas of the organization. However, many board members often have outside careers, meaning their relationship with an organization can differ from regular employees.
Internal vs. external customers
External customers are individuals who interact with a company from outside of its overall operations. Internal customers share some key attributes with external customers regarding expectations from a company. For instance, both classifications may prefer clear communication protocols regarding important items, like the price of a product for an external customer or a payroll status for an internal customer.
There are also some important core differences between internal and external customers. Here are some examples of differences to note:
Company activities: A person becomes an external customer when they pay for a service or product a company offers. Internal customers, however, exchange information or objects within one company's internal workflow.
Titles or classifications: External customers are typically clients, including individuals who buy a product or service one time or a long-term clientele. Depending on the context, multiple people acting within an organization might represent an internal customer.
Customer service goals: When addressing the needs of external customers, your goal might be to increase the number of purchases, referrals or positive reviews. A customer service goal regarding internal customers might be to increase employee satisfaction and overall productivity in the workplace.
Types of interactions: External customer interactions are typically more straightforward while internal customer relationships are often reciprocal. For example, you might describe a marketing associate writing blog copy and a social media manager posting it on an online platform as internal customers for each other.
Benefits of emphasizing internal customers
Here are the benefits of emphasizing internal customers within an organization's structure and best practices:
Establishes a constructive work environment: When employees feel valued by their colleagues, they might become more able to foster stronger relationships and make positive actions throughout a workday.
Increases overall productivity: If an employee understands they can provide an essential service that benefits a colleague, they might become more motivated to succeed, completing high-quality work in a shorter amount of time.
Improves prioritization tactics: Perceiving a colleague as a valued customer might help staff members better balance internal tasks with external customer interactions. For example, IT teams often serve colleges and clients, so perceiving both as types of customers can help them schedule tasks more effectively.
Streamlines company communication: You can apply the same protocols and standards for customer colleagues to your colleagues in your department and others to better convey more accurate, helpful and clear information.
Creates a positive effect on external customers: When employees have high morale and collaboration processes, they can better assess the needs of external customers. As a result, a company might retain more long-term clientele.
Related: How To Write Policies and Procedures
Examples of internal customer relationships
Here are some common examples of internal customer relationships in a company:
Staff in the same department
Colleagues who work on the same team can often act as internal customers for each other, as people specialize in different areas or steps of a project. A staff member serving as an internal customer may also rely on the expertise of another employee to complete their mutual project or task successfully. For instance, one person on a software development team might write a programming language while another debugs it later on during a testing stage so the users of that program can receive a functional and effective product.
Here are more examples of teams that often have internal customer relationships:
Restaurant staff: This group typically includes the employees serving food, cooks or chefs, dishwashers, managers and restaurant owners. Owners rely on the services of cooks or chefs to prepare food, who require servers to bring food to customers and dishwashers to maintain a restaurant's sanitation.
Retail staff: Depending on a store's requirements, these internal customers can include cashiers, inventory staff and management. Management relies on the services of cashiers to sell products and inventory staff to stock shelves.
Marketing staff: A company may have marketing personnel, including a social media manager, copywriter and graphic designer. The social media manager relies on the services of the copywriter and graphic designer to provide content for the content they post online.
The information technology (IT) department provides computer and other technical services to other staff members in a company, who become their internal customers. They typically run a service desk other staff members can contact for their services, including software support, printer configuration and network management. A positive customer relationship between IT staff and other employees allows a company to perform multiple daily operations using computer systems, particularly if they're in a technology-related industry.
The human resources (HR) department manages daily responsibilities related to the well-being of employees, who are their primary internal customers. Their services can include recruitment for new work positions, administering employee benefits and mediating interactions between staff and upper management. HR staff can also become internal customers for other employees in some situations at a company, such as a hiring process that requires the services of individuals in a department with open positions.
Facility management (FM) employees maintain the physical work environment of a company to ensure staff members have the resources they need. They often manage multiple services, including security, onsite cleaning and transportation, so staff operating at all job levels can become internal customers of FM employees depending on their needs. An effective customer relationship between FM employees and other staff can ensure a worksite has the materials a company requires for engaging in daily activities and operating successfully.
Consulting services provide a company with strategies, guidance, and solutions according to their specific needs. They're an example of an outside stakeholder that can become an internal customer when contracted to work at a specific company. For example, a company can hire a consulting service to advise them about supervising strategies to retain more long-term employees in the future. Since they're working within an organization, the company becomes their internal customer as well.
Tips for improving internal customer relationships
Consider the following tips for improving internal customer relationships in a company:
Get measurable feedback. Offer a survey to employees operating in different internal customer relationships to learn key areas of improvement. You can use this data to determine new strategies for projects and processes in the future.
Create a standard protocol for customer service. If you expand company standards for customer interactions to all areas of a company, you can have more opportunities to identify areas of improvement and increase overall efficiency.
Offer training programs. Schedule development sessions for employees to learn best communication practices. It may be helpful to address previous situations in these sessions to practice new collaboration strategies.
Establish a forum for employees to exchange ideas. You can open an online portal for employees to exchange ideas for internal customer satisfaction, such as strategies for streamlining projects that require the efforts of multiple departments.
Appreciate the work of your colleagues. After completing an internal customer interaction, it may be beneficial to express gratitude to that colleague for performing an essential service that helps you accomplish your own task. This action might make internal customer relationships stronger overall.
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