Aligning Internal & External Customers

Any company with employees and customers must serve two customers: the internal audience of staff who provide the services and produce the products sold by the business and the external customers who purchase the products and/or services from the business. All too often, executive leadership focuses on external customers to the exclusion of internal customers, which then results in low employee morale and high employee turnover. A tightening labor market will not sustain the traditional attitude of “be grateful you have a job.” With jobs already going unfilled, younger generations preferring to work for themselves, and a declining population reducing an already shallow labor pool, executive leadership must include employees within the customer service mantra.</p)

Interdependence within the Business

Tim Tupper writes, “When each department is only concerned about their piece of the success, failure will appear somewhere in overall customer satisfaction.” The various departments within a business depend upon one another to make the organization function as a whole. Integrated functionality requires alignment among the departments so that they not only serve themselves, they also serve each other and, ultimately, the customer.

Tupper states, “When your internal functions are out of alignment there will be external consequences. Until each department in your company is in alignment with each other you cannot operate at your best. Performance will always suffer somewhere.” Matt Sharrers agrees, adding, internal and external alignment “functional strategies are in alignment with the corporate strategy. And equally important, they are aligned with the external marketplace.”

Social Responsibility

Alignment of internal and external customers to grow and sustain business arises from the concept of social responsibility. In the InfoTrak report, “Customer Focus Starts with Internal Communication,” Comac, Inc. states, “In the battle to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of their markets, companies should remember that employees are their front line.” Put more bluntly, how you treat the front line directly affects the bottom line.

One tactic to align the efforts of staff spread among multiple departments within the organization to work toward the same objectives is communication. According to Comac, Inc., “companies with effective internal communications were 4.5 times more likely to report high levels of employee engagement than other companies.”

The subjective definition of effective communication causes confusion. Experts agree that effective communication embodies many of the same characteristics regardless of company culture. Of those traits, the most important is soliciting employee feedback. Once you solicit employee feedback, it cannot be summarily dismissed or ignored. Your employees aren’t stupid: they know the difference between lip service and meaningful action. A broken promise damages employee morale more than a promise never made.

The Golden Rule

Alignment of internal customers to serve the company’s external customers really all boils down to the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. While individuals hold different standards of courtesy and polite manners, policies and processes can define and put into place those standards that you wish to establish and sustain. Clear, direct, and candid communication followed by thoughtful consideration and response–if not always action–goes a long way toward ensuring employees understand corporate expectations, feel valued for their contributions to the business, and are positioned to fulfill those expectations to grow the business through improved customer service.