Ever since there have been internal departments like IT (and HR and Finance) there has been a drive for those groups to call the rest of the business “customers.” I believe this is a bad idea and hurts the organization. Let’s start with the sentiment:
- “We need to take care of our (internal) customers.”
- “We need to treat the rest of the company like customers to have the proper service attitude.”
Portions of this article are excerpts from my book, The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook, available in paperback and ebook from fine bookstores everywhere.
Seems straightforward, right? To be clear, IT departments must have a strong customer service mentality. We exist to help the company be successful. Other departments depend on us to help them with their technology needs.
But there are several reasons why using the term “customer” to refer to our fellow employees is a problem.
- Keep your eye on the ball. Paying Customers, the kind that pay cash to your organization for products or services, are the reasons your organization exists. Why would you want any confusion on who that is? I have worked for IT organizations that didn’t think about real customers at all. I think that is a bad thing. Everyone in the company needs to have a laser focus on the external paying customers. If you are in a government agency or non-profit, they may not be paying, but the concept still applies.
- You rarely tell Customers “No.” IT needs to say “No” to internal suggestions that make no sense. However, consider this: a Customer places an order to buy a standard product at our normal price. Our sales team knows that the Customer’s business plan isn’t very good and likely won’t survive in the marketplace. Do we tell that Customer “No”? Of course not. We take the Customer’s money, provide an excellent product, and do our best to help them succeed. We might change the forecast to capture our skepticism, but otherwise, we treat the Customer like all the other Customers. And we will say “Yes” to the order.
- Prioritization. IT must be transparent with the rest of the organization about priorities. If a request from Production is more important than a request from Planning, both groups should know that. But, rarely, if ever, would we tell a Customer that their order is less important than another Customer. Even if we make priority decisions between our Customers on the production floor, we would NEVER tell the Customer.
The word “Customers” should be reserved for those that purchase our products and services. Use “business partners”, “teammates”, or some other word to refer to those internal to the organization.