Internal Customers vs. External Customers; which is more important?

The old adage says that ‘the customer is always right”. With the passing of time, and more recently so, we see the emerging of the internal customer’s role as being an integral part of the external customer experience. But is it?

External Customers are our clients. This comprises of the people, businesses, and organizations outside of the company who buy our products and pay for our services. External customers are paramount for revenue generation and the ultimate success and survival of any organization. After all who would be in business if there wasn’t a market to which one’s goods and services would be supplied? Totally crazy!

Many organizations have the tendency to want to keep their external customers happy and contented. Contented customers remain, loyal, bring repeated business and of course new business through referrals. Your customers are your best advertisement tools; adversely, one customer having a bad experience, aided by technology and social media, can do a world of damage, which is very difficult to repair. No one wants that bad publicity. For this reason, managers are keen on keeping external customers satisfied. 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?

Internal customers on the other end of the spectrum are simply the employees of, or anyone in, the organization. Whilst internal employees don’t necessarily add to revenue directly, they can contribute indirectly. Negative customer experience could result from poor internal customer relations. This negative experience, as previously stated has the potential to hurt the entire organization. How do you keep your internal customers happy? I am glad you asked. Contrary to popular belief, money is not the primary motivator. Majority of organizations believe that once employees are compensated monetarily that it’s smooth sailing. Don’t misunderstand me; a healthy paycheck at the end of the month will definitely bring a smile to my face or any other logical thinking person. But is that all there is to it?

Sorry to say, but the answer is no. studies have shown that people respond better when they feel valued; that they are of some significance or importance to whatever organization they are a part of. We all want to feel valued and to know that we are adding value; it’s part of our human make up. Employees need to think of themselves the same way they think of external customers – as highly important. Also, managers and by extension organizations need to foster the environment that would encourage them to do so. If employees feel good about themselves and feel that they are important and add value, they will have better attitudes toward external customers, which will pique customer satisfaction.

Whilst we cannot say for sure that external customers are more important, or internal customers are more important, there is a definite connection between internal customer relations and external customer satisfaction. Excellent service to the external customer is dependent upon healthy internal customer service practices. Each one needs to be treated equally and with the same amount of care and respect.

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