Colleagues or Internal Customers?

How do you perceive and treat your colleagues? Does it matter?

One authority on customer service suggests it does:

“There’s a remarkably close and consistent link between how internal customers are treated and how external customers perceive the quality of your organization’s services. A commitment to serve internal customers invariably shows itself to external customers. It’s almost impossible to provide good external service if your organization is not providing good internal service.”

Benjamin Schneider, Professor of Psychology, University of Maryland and author of “Winning the Service Game” (Schneider, B., & Bowen, D.E. (1995).

Why and how might it matter? Here are 2 separate occasions on which I’ve over-heard poor internal service:

1. In a well-known high street store – the staff on the till were discussing their agitation in great detail about a certain manager’s behaviour.  They stopped as I reached the till, to continue in precisely the place they’d paused as soon as I stepped away with my bagged purchase.

2. In a national supermarket, I passed a staff member re-stocking a shelf whilst on a mobile phone. The conversation –  at high volume and in great detail –  covered a formal complaint around poor performance and mistreatment by a colleague.

Both stores are renowned for impeccable service. On both occasions my (little-informed) conclusion  – and dampened impression of the companies – was that “service qualities don’t stretch far behind the shopfront.”  More so, did it affect my customer experience?  Yes – because I don’t want to hear staff complaining but would rather they create a bouyant atmosphere – one in which I want to remain their customer for longer.

If it’s important to treat colleagues as internal customers, then how’s it done?

Firstly let’s ask – “What marks our experience as a disgruntled customer?” Perhaps some of these..

  • Delays or queues
  • Discourteous or rude behaviour
  • Unprofessional approach
  • Poor product or service
  • Unable to get information

I’d say all of the above constitute poor service. So, what constitutes good service? Perhaps..

  • Delightful experience, exceeding expectations
  • A smile
  • Eagerness to help
  • Listening to what’s needed
  • Saving time – certainly not wasting it
  • Doing exactly what was promised, when promised

As a consumer I bet we can relate to all of the above, can’t we? But can we relate it to customer service internallyin between colleagues – in our company or workplace?

Surely the list for good service works internally too?  What does it look like in practice? Here are some examples:

  1. Saying “good morning” with a smile and asking genuinely how someone is today.
  2. Acknowledging an email which requests an action – and responding with a confirmation, counter-deadline or decline or forewarning to expect a delayed response.
  3. When someone approaches our desk or calls,  stop what we’re doing entirely OR negotiate a better time when we can give undivided attention.
  4. In a meeting, listening attentively to all colleagues before arising at a conclusion.
  5. When someone is talking, taking notes so that our account is accurate and not based on snippets of memory or assumptions.
  6. Checking that – in our part of a project – that others are satisfied with our contribution and whether there’s more required.
  7. Noticing if someone seems stressed or confused and asking how we might help.
  8. When we can’t help, redirecting to someone who can and giving context as to why we can’t.

Now that doesn’t sound complicated, does it? Appreciating that others – whatever their job – have an equally as important role plays a large part in internal customer service. 


Surely our external customers want to believe we exude the same qualities internally as we do externally. More importantly, for us to work with enthusiasm and to the best of our abilities, we want to be treated as well as any customer and with the same respect. And we must do the same.

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