Treating your customers well – whether they are external or internal customers – is integral to running a profitable business. Give your employees training in soft skills and how to serve their customers well.
It’s becoming a well-known fact that customer service can make or break a business, especially in today’s business world. With how rapidly word can spread about a negative customer experience or a poorly handled attempt to fix an error, making sure you’re on track with soft skills relating to customer service is vital to the success of your organization. And while it is vital to focus on the external customers or clients you’re working with, that’s only half of the interactions that sum up your customer base. Here’s where the classification of external and internal customers, and the differences in service to each of them, gets even more important.
External customers are what most people classically understand as a customer; someone who pays for the product or service being provided by your business. These are your daily interactions, people you’re writing invoices to, seeing in the field, and overall providing quality service to. These customers don’t provide a service back to your business. Their transaction is simple; they purchase a product or service, and you provide it. These are the customers businesses rely on for making sales.
If you’re anything like me, you’re just finding out that employees, subcontractors, stakeholders, and sometimes suppliers are more than just each of those divisions; they’re your customers too. These are what we call internal customers: people who have a direct relationship with a business. According to CountingUp, “an internal customer is anyone who works within the company or stakeholders that interact with people inside the business as part of their job or responsibility.”
With these divisions in mind, it’s clear that interactions with internal and external customers will have different facets depending on who you’re talking to. An internal customer will get a lot of different information that an external customer might not need, while an external customer might get a service not at all required by an internal customer.
Knowing this, we can treat our customers differently, but with the same quality customer service, using the soft skills developed to communicate, manage, and lead effectively. Often customers will have the same base requirements (communication, for example) but you’ll need to approach it in a different way, or with different information.
Internal customers need more information about the daily performance of your business. Employees will need to know their schedules for the day, suppliers will need to know your demands for the next order period, stakeholders will need to know performance metrics, the list goes on. But the umbrella over all these topics is communication. Providing honest, clear, and concise communication tailored to who you’re speaking to will create an environment that encourages trust, loyalty, and honesty in return. People of all areas connected to your business want to feel valued, heard, and understood, and internal customers are no different. Communicating with transparency, listening to the information being provided by your customers in conversation, and working together to find a common ground that works best for the business and their individual situations is key to retention across all areas.
External customers, on the other hand, don’t need to be privy to the same depth of information you’re providing suppliers or employees. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need effective communication. Maintaining transparent lines of communication without overloading the customer with information will help them feel heard and understood, while not being overwhelmed with unnecessary specifics.
If, for example, you broke your wrist and had to see a doctor, the doctor attending you would communicate clearly that you broke the radial bone in your wrist and need it set in a cast. But that same doctor might turn to the casting technician and say you had a specific kind of fracture, with a specific angular load, and require a specific cast to heal properly. You, not a doctor, don’t need the extra specifics, as your job is to do the healing. But that technician needs extra information in order to do their job correctly. The same applies to your customers in your line of work. They need to know what’s happening, but don’t have to have all the specifics. You’re the professional, they need your help and anyone working on the project will need the specifics.
Keeping customers involved with each step of their service interaction will help them feel attended to, valued, and included throughout the process. Interacting with positivity throughout will help build a solid relationship between your business and the customer, as if you’re building a friendship. Building a lasting relationship with your external customers will help maintain their business, gain additional business through their positive reviews, and it can all be done with quality interactions.
Regardless of whether customers are internal or external, they’re people whose relationships are valuable to you and your business. Developing the interpersonal skills of your leadership team and those who are the face of your business out in the field is essential to maintaining positive customer relationships across all areas of your business. It’s so important to devote training time to soft skills amidst the additional training you’ve already got planned for your team year-round. Giving your team the skills necessary to create quality customer relationships will make these interactions easier and more fun for everyone involved, and that makes for a long-term customer-business relationship!