The Problem With Internal Customers

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Much is written about the relationship between IT and “the business.” To deliver a service mentality, leaders use internal customer to describe business units. This creates several issues, and often a divide between IT and business units.

Creates a subordinate relationship

Customers in sales, marketing, and finance create a subordinate relationship. You are reporting to your colleagues rather than working to solve problems. The customer is always right, and we should go above and beyond for our customers. We frame our colleagues as customers causing us to be afraid to tell ‘customers’ no and often over-commit or try to deliver solutions we shouldn’t. Departments should work as a team to deliver value to the true customer – those buying our products and services. When working together we are less worried about billing the right business unit and more focused on delivering value.

Reduces the external customer focus

Treating colleagues as customers reduces the view of the true customer – those buying your product or service. While IT may not interface with the customer, it should be thinking of ways to serve them. When a customer uses your site and purchases a product, what starts internally? Are there forms that need signed? When a salesperson travels, what could be at their fingertips to ease customer conversations?
As IT professionals – whether in App Dev or Operations – we should be thinking about how to make the customer journey easier. Usually, that will lead us to improve processes for our peers, but they are part of our expanded team not the customer. There are often times that we can reduce work for our peers that do not have an impact on the customer.

Measure the wrong metrics

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it are wise words from Peter Drucker. In the same vein, what are you currently measuring? Are they in line with your customer goals, or faced on more internal facing metrics? Are they times for resolution of service desk tickets, or are they measuring platform up-time?  
To serve the business’ customer, IT must use metrics focused on external customers and not peers. Use of these metrics will align your technical departments with the rest of the organization. Marketing and sales can have conversations that focus on their shared customer building organization cohesiveness.

Business versus IT

IT often talks about being in the business, or what the business is. This mentality further isolates technical departments from the rest of the organization  Do not talk about the business, be part of the business. Focusing on the customer creates a team atmosphere delivering value.
Discussing problems customers face will allow you to align with your sales counterparts, driving conversation rather than technical finger pointing. Further, budget criticisms decrease as executives realize IT’s value. When IT comes out of the shadows, it is easier to value rather than believing it is a cost center. An upgrade in a server, or disaster recovery measures are now seen as protection of customer operations rather than technical niceties.
In short, we need customers to stay motivated and measure our impact. Yet, as an organization we should all be focusing on the same goal which is customer value.