How to Pass the Internal Customer Test

Why is it, that certain colleagues and – in some cases – entire departments, feel the need to make our jobs harder than they already are?

You might be able to bring to mind a number of contenders within your business as you read this short story.

The Hot Air Balloon & the Salesperson

There was once a man travelling in a hot air balloon, who suddenly realised he was completely lost.

As he lowered himself down through the clouds, he found himself over a small, pretty garden with a woman tending to the roses.

“Excuse me!” shouted the man “can you please tell me where I am?”

“Why of course!” replied the woman “You are just above my garden!”

The man in the hot air balloon looked incredibly cross, took a deep breath and asked,

“Are you in SALES, Madam?”

Astonished, she responded, “Why yes! However did you know?”

To which he replied;

“Well, I asked you for some help, and now that you’ve given it to me I’m no better off than I was before I asked!”

His attitude and lack of gratitude had taken the lady by surprise, so she said;

“May I ask – are you in Marketing?”

The smug expression drained from the man’s face.

“I most certainly am, how on earth did you deduce that?”

“Simple really,” said the lady ….

“You appear to have set off with no real direction or back up plan, and when it all went wrong you came down from on high in search of some help. In order to offer you that help, I stopped what I was doing, and now that I have, your incompetence appears to have somehow become my fault!”

That story has always amused me.

Mostly because of the way it mirrors the internal politics I often witness, in so many of the companies I work with.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be sales and marketing – it could just as easily be finance and production – or HR and logistics – any department – and whichever way round you tell the story, everybody who hears it seems to be able to relate to the situation from both sides.

One of the best bits of advice I was ever given, was relayed to me by an old boss – and it explained how I should look after and nurture my relationships with colleagues from other internal departments – they should become my internal customers.

He didn’t tell me to go about it with a sleazy, false, salesy – “I don’t really like you, but here’s some doughnuts, so now can you do me a favour?” – approach.

His advice forced me to think more along the lines of;

“Everyone here deserves your respect for the job they do and you’d probably like them to respect you too”

I can almost guarantee, that every time I deliver one of our customer service workshops and explain that their customer service philosophy needs to be adopted for internal customers  – colleagues – just as much as external customers – someone in the room will say something like;

“You’ve got the wrong group in here – the xxxxxx department should be doing this not us!”


“The whole company should be attending this workshop we’d be so much more efficient if everyone treated each other in this way.”

Now, you might not think it’s worth the effort – to be fair, most people don’t see the point without having the time and guidance to really think it through – but the knock on effects of treating internal departments to the same standard of service and courtesy that the company expects front line staff to extend to external, paying customers – can seriously improve your own success. (As well as ensuring all the other departments make your team’s requirements a priority – which is an added bonus.)

And to make this deal even sweeter, to become a star internally, you really don’t have to do anything particularly ground-breaking.

Have you any idea how all the other departments currently view your team?

Sorry to upset you, but it’s probably not as positively as you think.

So, time for that to change!

Just start by asking yourself this simple question;

At the conclusion of any interaction with you or your team, how do you want your internal customers to describe the experience to others?

Now write down the keywords, emotions and actions that you’d like them to use to describe that experience.

And there’s the answer – and without undermining the importance of this beautifully simple exercise;


If you and your team act in that way from now on – that’s how people will talk about you and that’s how they’ll feel after dealing with you.

So, why should you care?

Well a clear conscious and an untarnished reputation are two half-decent reasons.

But how about – because nobody else in your organisation has ever stood back and thought about doing it – actually nobody else really has any idea why they should even try.

Which will leave you working in – or running – the department with the best reputation in the entire business.



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