Chapter 12The Folly of Internal Customers

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everyone from the chairman on down simply by spending his money somewhere else.

—Sam Walton

Does your team talk about internal customers? If so, it can have a chilling effect on your performance.

The concept of internal customers sounds good in theory. It goes something like this: employees who don't interact with external customers have internal customers, key stakeholders for whom they provide services. The IT department may consider the field their internal customers; finance may serve operations, and so.

But let's be honest, how many times have you seen someone break a sweat for an internal customer? People want to please internal customers, but they know in their hearts, they're not the same as paying customers.

The internal customer is an artificial construct designed to improve cooperation between departments. But it rarely sparks urgency. In fact, I would go so far as to say the very concept of internal customers waters down urgency for real customers. It can drive organizational mediocrity because internal customers never hold the same consequences as external customers. When everyone is a “customer,” the passion, commitment, and urgency for real customers, the people who pay for and use your services, diminishes.

Look at the average corporate mission statement. It's usually some version of:

We strive to be number one in our markets by providing excellent products and services ...

Get Leading with Noble Purpose now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.