Dump the internal customer

When I hear people refer to “internal customers”, my hackles get raised. It dates back to my years in retail, my CEO then had a mantra that there was only one customer – the one that came in to the shop. It’s a logic that really sticks with me and something that I hold dear to this day.

Put simply, I HATE the concept of an internal customer. And I DOUBLE HATE it, when referring to HR and “the business”.

I get the allure of referring to a customer service mentality, and the seeming simplicity of applying this to assuage the views of HR as bureaucratic. But when things seem too good to be true, they usually are. And in this case, the simplicity hides a number of major faults with this approach which makes it more of a distraction than a cure.

Customer implies a value transaction and yet in most organisations, this doesn’t occur. There are some that engage in internal charging models, but this tends to become more a bureaucratic source of dissatisfaction. How much would a pay award cost? Is there a mark up on it? What’s my cut?

Customer implies a choice of whether to transact, but in most cases we’re not suggesting any level of choice. “Do you want to use the disciplinary process or not? It’s a bargain I promise. In fact, I tell you what, if you buy one I’ll throw in a second one for free”.

Customer implies a power imbalance. What happens when HR is serving someone from IT, but that person is serving someone from Finance, who in turn is serving someone from HR? Who is the customer and who is the provider? Or are we back in the world of bartering? “Give me some training and I’ll fix your PC”, “Wait, I can do better than that, fix my PC and I’ll turn a blind eye to your budget overspend…..”

And therein is my biggest issue with internal customers, it makes an industry of the internal machinations of the organisation and takes us away from our true focus on the customer, the consumer, the procurer or purchaser. Whatever industry we are in, we are there to provide something to someone external. That is why we exist. If HR wants to be commercial then it would be better off getting the business to focus outside, rather than in.

I don’t have customers. I don’t have a customer service mentality. I have colleagues, team mates, co-workers, friends and collaborators. Together I want to work hard to deliver the best for the business and the people who interact with us.

Because they’re the real people we serve.