When Customers Are Not the Customers

In IT, we love to talk about our internal customers, the people we are trying to help so they succeed.

IT does this because we really believe what we are doing is a service to others. To the end-users in so-and-so department, to the various management and project teams, and to the larger organization.

I believe this “internal customer” metaphor is broken. It puts IT in a no-win situation by trying to satisfy the “internal customers.”

How do the internal customers compare to the external customers?

For the external customers, they pay for the products/services and get what they pay for.

For the internal customers, they often do not pay for the services they get from IT. Someone else in the organization approves the IT budget and pay for what the end-users will get from IT.

External customers communicate what they want from their funds, and organizations can choose to tailor their products/services in exchange for the funds.

Internal customers rarely influence the direction of their technology wants or needs. Someone or a committee within the organization decides what IT will provide for the organization. In fact, IT is often required to uphold the technology standard and consistency for the organization, regardless what the internal customers really want or need.

When working with the internal customers, is it even meaningful to talk about customer satisfaction or even exceeding expectation?

Perhaps IT should find another term for the “internal customers.” Maybe just the terms “peer departments” or “company teams” to keep things simple and focus on the collaboration.

After all, “internal customer” or not, we are still in this organization together to help each other succeed.