Theories in Customer Service: Internal vs. External Customers

We often hear the term “customer,” but just who are customers? Simply put, everyone is. Whether we realize it or not, we all have customers and we are all somebody else’s customer. Customers can be categorized as both internal and external and, as employees of an organization, we at BlueRock Energy have both.

What are the differences between internal and external customers? Internal customers are our coworkers such as the person in the cubicle next to you, your team manager, Human Resources, the sales reps who bring in new clients, or even the janitor who cleans the building. External customers are our clients. These are the people, businesses, and organizations outside of the company who give us their business or pay us for the services that we provide. The business of external customers drives revenue and is essential to the success and survival of an organization.

The natural tendency for employees is to pay more attention to and focus on external customers and place less importance on internal customers. As we know, it is very important to satisfy external customers. Satisfied external customers will be more loyal and will stay with the company longer, make repeat purchases, and will refer the company to other people. Conversely, an external customer who suffers through a negative experience with the company, such as being treated rudely by an employee, can harm an organization by discouraging others from patronizing it. With the advent of social media today, negative comments and reviews can be devastating to an organization.

But what happens if part of a negative customer experience was the result of sub-par internal customer service? What if one of our employees was for some reason unhappy in the office and that unhappiness was transferred to the customer by way of poor service? There is a domino effect between internal customer satisfaction and external customer satisfaction. In order to produce happy external customers (those who buy our products and services,) it is important to build good customer satisfaction with internal customers. This can be likened to a chain. Each link contributes to the overall strength of the chain and, when there is a broken link, the whole organization is weakened.

By finding ways to improve internal customer relations, we can foster a healthier and more satisfying work environment and avoid potentially negative experiences for our customers. A good way to improve internal relations and employee happiness is by getting employees to think of themselves and their coworkers in the same manner as they do with external customers, as very important. We all need to provide our internal customers (employees and coworkers) with the same high level of service that we give to our clients. Make sure that employees and coworkers feel that they are important and have value. If employees feel good about themselves and feel that they are important and have value to the company, they will perform better, as is expressed in the quote from Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success.”

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