What Is Internal
Article by Donna Earl
A Definition and Case Study
the term Internal Customer Service has become a buzz phrase.
We hear that great customer service (for the external customer)
depends on excellent internal customer service. But what does that
mean? Let's start with some definitions.
1. The external customer is someone who signs a check, pays
our employer, and ultimately makes our paycheck possible. External
customers have choice, and if they don't like your product or service
can take their business elsewhere.
2. An internal customer or internal service provider
can be anyone in the organization. An internal customer can be a
co-worker, another department, or a distributor who depends upon
us to provide products or services which in turn are utilized to
create a deliverable for the external customer. In general, internal
customers don't have a choice. For example, if the sales department
doesn't like accounting's credit policies, they can't fire that
department and hire another.
Great (external) customer service creates customer satisfaction,
customer loyalty, and customer retention. So why all the fuss about
internal customers, especially when retention isn't an issue?
Outstanding internal customer service is simply good business. Internal
customer service can flourish only in high communication environment.
To create positive internal customer service, all departments work
together cooperatively, agree on processes and procedures, and negotiate
expectations. Like gears meshing in sync, interdependent business
units meet each others' needs, work productively together to meet
common goals, and deliver high quality products and service to the
The focus on developing effective internal customer service helps
organizations cut costs, increase productivity, improve interdepartmental
communication and cooperation, boost employee morale, align goals,
harmonize processes and procedures, replace interdepartmental competition
with interdepartmental cooperation and deliver better service to
the external customer. Excellent service to the external customer
is dependent upon healthy internal customer service practices.
Internal Customer Service Case Study
The customer advocate for a large manufacturing company was concerned
about the organization's reputation for excellent products, but
terrible customer service. The company mentality was "Customer
service is just a department!"
During the interactive exercises in the Internal
Customer Service Seminar presented by Donna Earl, many expensive
lapses in the company's internal customer service came to light.
One example involved Engineering's lack of response when Customer
Service reps required an engineer's input. (In this case Engineering
is the internal service provider and the Customer Service reps are
the internal customers).
The Customer Service reps were responsible for problem solving and
taking orders for highly technical, often customized parts. Sometimes
the reps needed clarification from an engineer to process a customer
order for the correct part. Engineers viewed information requests
from Customer Service reps as low priority, uninteresting, and annoying.
During the class, we calculated the cost to the company of one incorrect
shipment was approximately $125,000 in wasted labor, materials,
and other expenses. In addition, the cost of frustration and delayed
deadlines to the external customer was damaging to the company's
At the end of the seminar, engineers understood what the Customer
Service manager had been preaching for years: responding to requests
from customer service reps is a priority and is good business.
See related article Providing
Excellent Internal Customer Service.
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.