“Internal Customer” is a phrase often heard in business and in many a customer service course. Usually this refers to one department (the internal customer) receiving work from another department (the internal supplier).

Thanks to the introduction of this idea in many customer service course sessions, the phrase has become widespread and is now applied to branch offices, field officers, repair centers, distributors, night shifts, contract workers, parking lot attendants, bosses, employees, job applicants and even retirees.

Motorola has more than one thousand service agents in China repairing and upgrading consumers’ mobile phones. Motorola provides spare parts to the service agents, making the agents “internal customers” of Motorola. But Motorola pays labor fees charged by the service agents under maintenance contracts. So Motorola is also an internal customer of the agents. This could be confusing, which is why this customer service course suggestion should be re-evaluated.

It gets worse when more than two parties are involved, or when people say “The Customer is King” and then argue over who should be treated more “royally!” This defeats the purpose of a good customer service course, doesn’t it?

I think the phrase itself is out-of-date and problematic. Rather than one side taking the “customer” position and casting the other as “supplier,” both parties could – and should – embrace to become “Internal Service Partners” working together to delight the “external customer.”

After all, good ideas and extra effort should come from both sides in any working relationship. Both “internal customers” should be committed to creating a positive outcome for their shared “external customer” down the line.

Within our departments, companies and organizations we are customers and providers to each other.
We are, in truth, service partners. Use this customer service course information to alter your “internal” thinking for the better.

Key Learning Point

The phrase “internal customer” can lead to awkward attitudes and inappropriate expectations. Replace it with “internal service partners” to update your customer service course information.

Action Steps

Get together with those you depend on at work and those who depend on you. Create a shared declaration of service partnership for working effectively together, including listening to each other’s concerns, being open to new ideas, sharing insights and new approaches, and making suggestions for improvement.

Keep your service partnership focused on the customer that really counts – the one that makes a choice every day about where to bring their business.