Whose Customer Is It, Anyway? 3 Ways to Balance Individual and Organizational Roles

Customer service team restuarantHave you ever had employees in your organization argue over customers?

I was recently working with a client in Toronto where one of the company’s salespeople was emphatic that a certain customer “belonged” to him, not to the organization.

The organization, on the other hand, tried to get the employee to see that while he did serve this particular customer, others in the organization did, too—not only other departments within the company (finance, project managers, shipping, etc) but also other salespeople in other geographic areas .

The bottom line is that a customer can “belong” to both the employee and the organization.  Let me give you a perfect example of this.  While staying at a hotel, I ordered room service for dinner. Upon entering my room and throughout the seven minutes he spent verifying my order and having me sign my bill, the hotel employee made small talk with me and made me feel welcome by asking if there was anything else he could do to make my stay more enjoyable.  For those seven minutes, I was his customer—the customer he was serving and focusing on at that moment—and I was also still the customer of the hotel overall.  He wasn’t responsible for taking care of everything I needed during my stay, but for those brief minutes, he understood that his full attention should be on me.

This is a very important concept to teach your employees—how to take ownership in serving “their” customers while recognizing that others in the organization will be serving them as well. Here are 3 ways to do it:

  1.  Discuss with employees what their specific role is with their customers. Get them to identify ways they can build a unique relationship with the customer based on their role.
  2.  Help your employees understand how the same customer can also “belong” to others in the company who serve the customer—the finance department that deals with billing questions; the project managers who may answer questions or provide information; the shipping department that may send materials to them; etc.  Your employees need to see the big picture—customers are probably dealing with multiple touch points in your organization, not just them.
  3.  Encourage your employees to partner and communicate with others in the organization who interact with the customer to make sure there is consistency in service and nothing falls through the cracks. 

Ideally, we want our employees to take ownership of their relationships with their customers but at the same time recognize that they share this customer with others in the organization. The better we can make the overall customer experience, the more likely we are to build customer loyalty.

About the author:

Kathy Cuff is a senior consulting partner and one of the principal authors—together  with Vicki Halsey—of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Legendary Service training program.

5 thoughts on “Whose Customer Is It, Anyway? 3 Ways to Balance Individual and Organizational Roles

  1. Good for brand loyalty & company long term gain. It may be the way of lateral entry in competitor market. So, “work as the proprietor of the company, not as the manager of the company”

  2. Reblogged this on @richardcooperCH the blog and commented:
    Very interesting, in larger professional services firms managing the balance between personal ownership and the firms ownership is often challenging. Without a significant personal relationship customers or clients may not get the attention that they deserve on the other hand if they are too dependant on a single relationship they often don’t get access to other professionals skills. This is a good article to help with some internal conversations, internal conversations that must always focus back on the customers.

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  4. And What´s about “internal customer” concept? …probably it is necessary to explain both concepts at the same time…..on one hand “internal consumer” and at the other hand that “final consumer” does not belong only at people who attends it…..isn´t it?

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