by James Canada
During my time as a consultant, as well as my days owning a small business, I’ve met dozens of people who don’t understand the customer/supplier relationship. I’ve encountered even more who fail to see that there are actually two types of relationships: internal and external.
The external customer is what we typically think of as “a customer”— the person to whom you supply goods or services. Meanwhile, the internal customer is someone within your own organization to whom you must provide the information necessary to do the job. The external customer pays the bills—but the internal customer is no less important. And distinguishing between the two, while giving each equal care and attention, is vital to your business’s overall success.
For example, I was once asked to manage a cross-functional team of American Airlines employees in an effort to improve the efficiency of departures from DFW Airport in Dallas. In this instance, external customers were paying passengers whom we needed to get safely to their destinations on time. Internal customers were the people in all the different departments working for the airline. Each team member needed specific information to complete his or her task. The pilot couldn’t taxi until the ground crew had all the bags in place and flight attendants had seated all passengers. The cleanup crew needed to know when the lavatory crew was done; food service had to wait until the cleaning crew was done, as did the gate agents and flight attendants.
As each department realized its unique role, the process became more efficient. Delays went down; external customers were happier. But internal customers—the team members—were also happier and had a clearer understanding of the importance of customer/supplier relationships.
James H. Canada is managing partner/CEO for Alliance Technologies LLC, ITEN mentor and author of “Corporate to Entrepreneur: Strategies for Success.” Contact Jim at email@example.com, 636-734-2337 or www.alliancetechnologiesllc.com.