Who’s your Customer? My First Lesson in Business


money-lessonBy Maria Geokezas, account director for Heinz Marketing

My very first lesson in business – and probably the most important one. I was a kid, brand new in the work force at my first job as an assistant buyer at Target Stores. On my first day, I sat in a small conference room with a dozen other newly hired college graduates for orientation. You could feel the excitement and anxiety in the room escalate as the head of Human Resources walked in and introduced himself. He wasn’t there for long, I don’t even remember his name, but he left us with one message: If you want to be successful here, you have to remember that everyone is a customer.

At first I didn’t get it – I wasn’t hired for the sales floor — but then he explained. Even though you don’t have a role with daily exposure to the person who is consuming the product or service your company sells, you have numerous “internal customers”. These are the people you work with on a daily basis, who are responsible for bringing your company’s good and services to market. They include suppliers and vendors, distributors and sales people, your boss (and their boss) and your colleagues.

It’s a pretty basic principle. But sometimes it’s hard to apply. Here are a few suggestions to help your internal customer relationships:

Understand their world
What are the pressures and pain points your internal customers face as part of your supply chain? Besides the requests and deliverables you’ve asked of them, what else are they responsible for? What environment do they work in? Who do they answer to? Empathy goes a long way in establishing a foundation for strong customer relationships.

Regular communication
Especially if you are working on a project together, it’s helpful to keep your internal customers informed of the status. Even if they aren’t directly impacted. Over-communicating is always better.

Make it consumable
As you exchange or deliver information, make it easy for your internal customers to use what you are providing them. Help them understand how to use the information — that way you get the type of response that keeps the project moving forward more efficiently.

Tell them what you are going to tell them
This may seem redundant, but before you jump into your story, explain to your internal customers what you are going to cover with them. That way they can be in the right frame of mind to receive your information and respond in a manner that is helpful and efficient.

It all comes back to empathy. Walk in your colleagues’ (or your sales teams’, boss’ or suppliers’) shoes and try to understand the work load and environment they face. Your internal clients certainly have more responsibilities than the project or tasks you are working on. Get to know their work environment and make it easy for them to you help you get the job done well.