Providing Service to Internal Customers

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There was a period in my career when I had to obtain the cooperation of an IT support employee. This employee was responsible for making certain connections and configurations to our remote data center while I was attempting to have controllers installed on X.25 lines around a nine state area. When I started out on the installs my thought was “this was going to be another experience where we both treat each other as customers”. This was before I knew what the term “internal customer” meant but I would treat him as though he was going to rate my job performance anyway and I expected him to treat me the same way. I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The IT support employee did not care what I or anyone else thought. He purposely made everything difficult to the point that I once had to demand an immediate connection that he should have made days before. It took thirty minutes of hassling with him to get the connection made. The question was “Did we treat each other as internal customers?” If we had treated each other as internal customers would the installs have been that difficult? The answer to both questions is “no” of course. I kept thinking that maybe I was approaching him in the wrong way but I discovered that many people were joking about taking up a collection to have him “taken out”. He was hated in a big way and I just blindly walked right into the situation. He had a personality problem obviously and was not capable of recognizing me as an internal customer. If he had, we could have had a good experience working together and probably expedited the installation of the controllers for my internal customers in the nine states. The only way the installs could be completed was for me to constantly put up with his attitude and roadblocks.

This is an extreme example of how not to serve internal customers but it makes the point. When your job is to perform a service for another employee or work group you should regard them as an internal customer and not an inconvenience or a bother. Unfortunately, too many times there is someone in business that refuses to understand this concept. They consider every request an inconvenience or distraction to their routine. People like this need to be identified and corrective action needs to be taken. External customer demands cause sufficient problems for all employees and this type of internal conduct should be dealt with.

One of the major reasons for this situation to occur is the absence of shared objectives. Some years ago there was a work performance training program which referred to “the North bound train”. The idea was to ask the question “are you on the South bound train while the company is on the North bound train?” In short, is everyone working together towards a common goal? There have actually been situations where two groups (engineering and service maintenance) were supposed to be working towards the same goal but were not sharing the same goals. Executive management would have told anyone that asked them “of course they have the same goals”. Actually the two groups had written objectives that had no relationship to each other. Engineering was attempting to provide new equipment to customers while service maintenance was trying to obtain replacements for equipment already in service. The two departments were not on “the North bound train” together. The objectives were changed to work in conjunction with each other and a very positive result was obtained.

If this concept can be adopted company-wide the results can be dramatic for all employees depending upon existing conditions in the company at the time the concept is adopted.

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