When Customers are Co-Workers

Over the past several weeks I’ve worked with a handful of clients whose CSRs have the unique challenge of serving two different sets of customers. There are the "traditional" customers – the end-users of the company’s products/services and then there are the "internal" customers who are scattered around the country or the globe as dealers, sales representatives, or territory managers.

It’s very common for CSRs in the call center to treat these internal customers differently (that is, worse), and the relationship is admittedly different. An internal customer has different expectations and different needs. In many cases, they can be just as demanding, if not more demanding, than a traditional customer.

Nevertheless, internal customers are customers, and CSRs often feel that they have license or are given license to give internal customers a lower level of service than traditional customers. Commonly, CSRs don’t extend professionalism, courtesy and friendliness, they aren’t as quick to respond, and they give a lower priority to resolving issues.

This view of internal customers is short-sighted. It leads, by extension, to poor service for the traditional customers that the field serves. It heightens internal conflict and tension between the home office and the front-lines. In the call center, it creates a host of issues for the QA team who tries to apply a scorecard meant for traditional customers to a internal customer call that doesn’t "fit".

HEre are a couple of suggestions for call centers who serve both traditional and internal customers:

  • Invest in a survey of your dealers or field reps. Find out what drives their satisfaction compared to your traditional customers. The data will allow you to make tactical decisions for improving your service to them.
  • Create a QA scale for internal customers or modify your existing scale to account for the differences between internal customers and traditional customers.
  • Make your internal customers an intentional area of focus within the call center. Changing the attitudes and culture within your call center will take conscious effort. Plan an event, bring a dealer or sales rep in to talk to your teams about their jobs and how the call center is a critical part of helping them serve traditional customers well.
  • As a reward for one of your top performing CSRs, send them out to the field as a goodwill ambassador, equipped with a video camera to do a "ride along" and document their trip. Have the CSR share their experiences with the CSRs back home and let them be a cheerleader for improving service to internal customers.

Whatever you can do to improve attitudes and service to internal customers will yield positive results on several fronts. Internal relationships will improve, internal tension will diminish and the end-customers will be better served by the field.

Related Posts:
Internal Customers are Still Customers
Authentic Leadership

  11 comments for “When Customers are Co-Workers

  1. Brian
    October 26, 2006 at 8:16 am

    I am part of a management team that manages a call center that actually is entirely based on internal customers. It is an interesting dynamic to say the least. Luckily, we don’t have that contrast of internal versus external, so we are able to focus our QA entirely on those internal customers. That being said, I found your suggestions useful. Great post.

  2. October 26, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    Hi Tom!
    Great post! Internal customers OFTEN get left behind.
    One addition I’d make to your list. Invite the internal customers in to spend the day with the CSR’s as well. The exchange (both ways) goes a long way toward bonding the relationships.
    Keep up the great work!

  3. October 26, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Brian. Glad you found the suggestions useful. Let me know how it goes. I’m sure other readers could benefit from your experiences!
    Great comment, Lora! You nailed it. It DOES go both ways. Having an internal customer sit with CSRs builds goodwill and understanding on both sides!

  4. October 30, 2006 at 11:42 pm

    Thanks for the tips, Tom! I think they too can apply to other organization than call centers. It’s sad sometimes that management give less focus on their internal customers, who are often at the forefront of business deals.

  5. October 31, 2006 at 6:16 am

    You’re right, Meikah – but in the post I was thinking more of front-line CSRs who serve internal customers. I often encounter a “they’re not a customer so I can give them less service” mentality. Of course, you make a good point – if management isn’t leading by example then it’s no wonder the front-line isn’t doing it.

  6. October 31, 2006 at 8:49 am

    A friend that work in a big global corporation once told me “my work is only in the research department, so I have no customers.”
    That caught my attention and I thought “how come she thinks she has no customers when she handles demands from several other areas of the company?”
    Professionals really forget that when people ask you to do something for them, they become your costumer, even if only a internal one.

  7. October 31, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    Good point, Luis – and if we all understood how to serve our internal customers well – it would translate into better service to the external customers.
    Thanks for commenting!

  8. October 31, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Great tips!
    The sad thing is that internal customers tend to be ruder that external customers.

  9. October 31, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    You know what, Josiane? You make a great point. Internal customers can be more demanding and more rude. But could that be part of the “what goes around comes around” mentality? I have experienced that when an internal customer service team makes a conscious effort to serve their internal customers well, that their internal customers’ attitude eventually improves!

  10. November 3, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    Everyone is your Customer

    A few days ago, I was reading a Tom Vander Wells blog post titled When Customers are Co-Workers on QAQnA.
    The article reminded me of someone I met a few years ago. She worked in the research department of a big global company and …

  11. November 3, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Everyone is your Customer

    A few days ago, I was reading a Tom Vander Well’s blog post titled When

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