- Posted by James Canada
- On January 12, 2021
During my time as a consultant, as well as my days owning a small business, I’ve met dozens of people who don’t understand the customer/supplier relationship. I’ve encountered even more who fail to see that there are actually two types of relationships: internal and external.
The external customer is what we typically think of as “a customer”—the person to whom you supply goods or services. Meanwhile, the internal customer is someone within your own organization to whom you must provide the information necessary to do their job. The external customer pays the bills—but the internal customer is no less important. And distinguishing the two, while giving each equal care and attention, is vital to your business’s overall success.
For example, I was once asked to manage a cross-functional team of American Airlines employees in an effort to improve the efficiency of departures from DFW Airport in Dallas. In this instance, the external customer was the paying passenger who we needed to get safely to their destination on time. The internal customers were the people in all the different departments working for the airline. Each team member needed specific information to complete their task. The pilot couldn’t taxi until the ground crew had all the bags in place and flight attendants had seated all passengers. The cleanup crew needed to know when the lavatory crew was done; food service had to wait until the cleaning crew was done, as did the gate agents and flight attendants.
As each department realized their part, the process became more efficient. Delays went down; external customers were happier. But the internal customer—the team—was also happier and had a clearer understanding of the importance of customer/supplier relationships.
Jim is an operations, business development and program/project management leader with Executive Management experience in both Service and Manufacturing environments.