INTERNAL CUSTOMERS: Value the unidentified ones!

Much to the knowledge gained through reading organizational Vision and Mission statements, Corporate Strategies and Business Initiatives, our definition of Internal customers is restricted to the employees. The strategy sheets very proudly lay down next steps and highlight accomplishments related to employee performance and team growth.

Though the internal customers [still restricted to employees] are given some credit, there are these ‘unidentified’ internal customers everywhere. These are the people who’re using the services of another business/functional unit within the same organization. These are the members of another team, another division in the same company, who have a stake in the output of the other unit.

Let’s take an example of any IT company that has various business/functional units like Software development, Quality Assurance, Customer Support, Pre-sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, Systems. Members of Quality assurance unit would be the internal customers for software development unit and vice versa; all the tech divisions have sales & marketing as their internal customers, it stands true otherwise as well.

Main focus has mostly been on achieving organizational and unit’s objectives. No doubt, HR does a great job managing personnel. However, when it comes to handling ‘internal conflicts’, the onus is quickly passed onto the Business Unit’s [Referred to as BU hereafter] head. Ironically, BU heads are always short of time when it comes to handling the so called ‘petty’ issues and targets and other objectives take the lead.

My one-on-one discussions with team members, other BU heads has mostly (though indirectly) indicated their conflicts and difference of opinions with other unit’s members. Quite a many of the projects get delayed or the quality gets impacted for the reasons like this [straight from various employees], which surely seem so trivial, but if ignored, have a huge negative impact overall:

  • The project manager of ‘abc’ team is so arrogant that we can’t approach him to get our queries answered. So we have to work with our own assumptions.
  • The quality delivered by this team is never good and we end up doing most of their job.
  • There is no response from the designer for 2 weeks now and our work is stuck.
  • Sales people always call at the wrong time, when we’re just off from work and with family.

Now, if we start understanding the reasons behind all the above statements, they may sound apt from the perspective of the ‘blamed’ department. However, what lacks is the consideration of viewpoint and objectives of other teams/departments involved. Ultimate result is low employee morale, project delays due to such conflicts, increasing communication gap and spoiled relations, none of which is productive to any organization’s health.

What is required here is:

  • Open communication from both the sides, this is the most important thing.
  • Conflict handling by the unit heads or empowering the appropriate team members to take charge of such conflicts.This works two-ways: Delegating with authority is a big motivation factor. Conflicts are handled on time.
  • Implementation of regular open house or meetings focusing on such issues. The involved parties should be encouraged to bring concerns with FACTS. Every such meeting must end up with  ‘NEXT STEP’ to be followed.
  • Regular one-one-one sessions or team meetings to review the situation after stipulated time period. Change the approach if required.The crux is that it’s crucial to identify critical INTERNAL customers as well and look towards building stronger relationships with them. The idea is, while providing services, employees of one department shouldn’t just focus on ‘completing their work’, rather they should go ahead and think of doing ‘value add’ to the overall organization. Company meets and team days do help to an extent, but more focused interactions with ‘critical internal customers’ can do wonders and assist in conflict management.Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts relevant to this post.– Manpreet Juneja

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