Internal Customer Service
Article by Donna Earl
Key requirements for outstanding internal customer
foundation for outstanding internal customer service is excellent
interdepartmental communication and cooperation. (See related article
for definition and case study
of internal customer service.) Dialogue between internal customers
and internal providers (or vendors) must include agreements about
the following topics:
1. Clear expectations. An internal provider of service is
responsible for setting clear guidelines about what internal customers
can reasonably expect. Some organizations implement Service Level
Agreements (SLAs) defining what internal customers can expect from
internal service providers. Even without formal SLAs, internal customer
service can be exceptional IF the internal service provider has
clarified to internal customers what expectations are reasonable.
Customer also must communicate expectations regarding timeline and
quality in advance of request. Last minute requests are typically
due to poor planning on the part of the internal customer. Expecting
the internal provider to 'hijack' priorities to meet unreasonable
needs is inappropriate, and should be dealt with on a case-by-case
basis, with involvement by upper management. At no time should this
become the norm, or the internal customer will become 'trained'
to expect the unrealistic.
2. Customer Responsibilities. To meet expectations, internal
provider of service is responsible for clarifying what is needed
from the internal customer, and also clarifying service provider
processes and timelines necessary to meet quality requirements of
customers. The phrase "Help me help you" from the movie "Jerry Maguire"
In order to provide the best customer service, internal providers
need the cooperation of customers in allowing enough lead time and
providing information and materials necessary to fulfill customer
request. This is a communication responsibility of the internal
service provider to let the customer know 'what I need from you
in order to meet your request is ....' It's essential to have an
understanding with customers about realistic timelines and quality
expectations. Internal providers who find they're constantly working
on customer 'emergencies' must clarify to customers the strain this
causes to provider. Constant emergencies diminish provider's ability
to give good service to all internal customers, and create a stressful
working environment (not to mention interdepartmental animosity).
3. Service Provider Responsibilities. Most internal customer
service problems are a result of the 'silo' mentality where people
and departments work in isolation, consider only their own priorities,
and think others are sitting around twiddling their thumbs with
nothing to do until an internal customer screams "Jump!" in a last
minute panic. This is sure to guarantee lower levels of quality,
resentment from provider, and a reputation for lack of professionalism
on part of customer. Customers must take responsibility for understanding
how their request fits into overall workflow of organization and
internal service provider's workflow.
Internal service providers are responsible for explaining their
workflow, so the customer will understand he or she isn't the only
4. Negotiated Priorities. While most customer priorities
are 'urgent - must have right away' this is counterproductive to
any process. A clear communication between internal customers and
service providers is essential. With internal customer service,
most customers believe the provider should intuitively understand
priorities because they all work for the same organization. This
is false! A discussion about priorities must be part of the expectation-setting
TIPS for internal customer service providers
1. Always know your customers' expectations, and be a part
of their expectation setting. If they have false or unrealistic
expectations, explain your workflow, priorities, processes and timelines
in providing top quality service for them.
2. To help your customers utilize your services better, explain
how they can be 'good customers.' Be explicit about what you
need from them in order to meet their needs. Define timelines and
quality levels. Let them know what they can expect from you. As
an internal provider, tactfully tell the customers how they fit
into your workload, and listen to their delivery needs. Negotiate
delivery dates and quality levels.
3. Always keep customers informed on project progress. Nobody
likes to be blindsided by delays or last minute requests for additional
4. Get out of your 'silo'. Take a break with co-workers from
another part of your organization. Talk to them during lunch about
what's happening in their department. We all work so hard we can
become myopic, lack perspective and be ignorant about how other
5. Open your vision to the big picture. When talking to co-workers
from other departments, develop an understanding of how the whole
organization works. How does your contribution fit into the big
picture? What do other departments need from you to meet their goals?
Think outside your function and department, and think holistically.
TIPS for internal customers
1. Discuss your expectations with your service provider.
Make sure your expectations regarding timelines and quality levels
are realistic. Ask your internal service provider what you must
provide so they can meet your needs. Ask what their process is,
and understand what is involved in delivering your request on time,
and meeting your quality standards.
2. Use effective time management practices. Once you understand
your service provider's process, develop your time line for delivering
the request. Certainly 'emergencies' happen, and service providers
can be pressured to meet tight deadlines. However, customers who
consistently expect providers to 'bend the rules' to meet emergency
deadlines strain their service providers and disrupt everyone's
priorities. Customers who operate in 'emergency' mode have a negative
impact on the workflow as a whole, and cheat others who have planned
3. Provide all information needed to fill your request. In
your original request, include sufficient information to allow the
provider to adequately estimate the time and resources needed. Be
prepared to provide additional information requested by the provider.
4. Always be professional. Honor the provider's priorities,
workflow, and processes. Do not expect 'exceptions' to the rule,
especially if poor planning has created your urgency. If your work
were delayed due to another customer's 'crisis', how would it impact
Copyright © 2004 Donna Earl. All rights reserved.
Donna Earl is an international
specialist in Customer Service, Management Skills and Emotional Intelligence.
She offers an Internal
Customer Service Seminar specifically developed to help companies
improve their level of internal customer service. Donna can be contacted
by phone at 415.929.8110 or by email at email@DonnaEarlTraining.com
for permission to reprint these articles, or regarding her consulting
and training services.