How do we treat “internal customers”?


HR reflections on a non-HR related matter.

So last week I attended a sales training with a bunch of sales people. As HR, I wanted to have a better idea of what day-to-day challenges of our sales force are. Get the insider information. To save myself from trouble, before the beginning I approached facilitator to let her know that I will be a mere observer as I am not actually in sales, when she replied “well…maybe see it from perspective of HR, you also have customers, right? – aren’t employees your customers?”. Hmm. “Employees are our customers” – I heard this before. We also call them “internal customers”. But do we actually treat our employees as we would treat our customers?

Why customers? Employees are offering companies their only scarce resources – time and energy. Company pays back. However as in sales – there are short-term transactions and there are long-term relationships. First based on regular standard reward for services, the latter – on investing in the future, building trust and a long-term win-win partnership.

So here are some key learnings:

Know your customer.

Before even suggesting that you know what your customer needs – understand what they are going through. What is their long-term strategy? What are their key business objectives? What are their key challenges? What measurement of success is important to them?

What do we know about your employees? What truly motivates them? What are the key challenges they are struggling with that you might be able to influence? What is their long-term goal? When was the last time we were asking these questions?

Do not assume. Ask!

Any training will tell you , that if you don’t have information about the customer, making assumptions may lead you to offering a wrong solution or ending negotiations earlier than planned. Do not assume what’s important for the customer. Ask!

How often do we assume what trainings, what support, what working conditions the employee needs? Most of all, we assume what motivates people, while everyone’s motivation is different. Simply asking the right question will help you to understand what unique development support will help a specific individual strive.

Don’t sell a product – offer a solution.

Don’t push for a product sell. If you do everything right, you will know what your customer needs – offer a solution that will cover their short-term and long-term needs.

It’s not about getting everyone to go through that very important course or about giving employees n days of “some” training. Standard approach will not take you anywhere; you might only accidentally meet 5%or so employees’ needs. Work on customized solutions to meet individual needs; be creative; think out the box. This will bring you a motivated and engaged employee for a longer period of time.

Sometimes we really have to practise what we preach. Calling employees ‘customers’ doesn’t only mean we offer them services. It’s about how we do it. It’s about what difference it makes to them.


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