Picture your best customer in your mind. Who is it?
- Is it the customer who has paid you the most money over the past year?
- The largest company you work with?
- The one with the most potential for next year?
- Is it your best advocate and referral source – the one who unfailingly sings your praises?
- Do you answer that question from a quality of life perspective and name the customer you most enjoy working with?
I’m betting the answer, when you really think about it, is “none of the above.”
“Customer” can be defined as “a person with whom one trades goods or services on a regular basis” or “someone with whom one must deal” (e.g., a “tough customer”).
My most important customers are the people inside my firm with whom I work regularly in order to get most anything accomplished. Just for the purpose of generating a simple letter, I have to supply my assistant with content, office supplies, computer equipment, software, stationery and the means of communication – stamps, FEDEX packages, or internet access. My assistant, in turn, has to supply me with timely and accurate performance.
The quality of our performance is inextricably intertwined. A good assistant may be able to compensate for poor performance in one area – incomplete instructions, for example or less-than-current software. But if performance slips and remains consistently below par, my best customer will become dissatisfied and leave.
I remember when I first heard and started thinking about the concept of the internal customer. I recall what a revelation that was to me. I had never thought of the people I worked with in those terms before. But for me, it helped crystallize some things. The concept of the internal customer helped me hone in on the question of performance by framing it as customer satisfaction.
I began to ask the people with whom I worked most closely how I could better serve them. They knew what they needed from me and, more to the point, were keenly aware of those occasions and those circumstances in which I failed to deliver it.
As a result of those meetings, I learned how some low cost adjustments to our equipment could make it easier for my assistant to transcribe my letters. I found out what really annoyed her about printing certain types of documentation – and how our IT guy could help. And I found out precisely how much lead time she needed to avoid errors when performing certain types of work. She, in turn, learned how to anticipate certain workflow demands so that we could work together more efficiently.
After a while, you can almost get to that feeling you have when you walk into your favorite restaurant and they hand you your favorite drink without being asked. And that, no doubt, leads to superior customer satisfaction.