Your answer will greatly depend upon your perspective. If you work in sales, you will probably have a different view from somebody who works in technical support. A Call Center Manager and an Accounting Supervisor will most likely provide a different answer, but from a better vantage point, and your understanding of the question, you should be able to see that the answer is both “yes” and “no.”.
Customers take several forms. If you have an administrative job, your concept of the customer in relation to your duties may not be so clear. Back-office personnel and administrative staff have customers too. Those customers are internal staff members. A customer is someone who receives or consumes a good or service from a vendor or supplier. With this mind, an IT engineer has customers; those who utilize the technology services implemented and maintained by him. Managers also have customers; their direct reports. These staff members use the tools provided by management to perform their duties. Without these tools, their jobs would go undone and ultimately, the front-line (sales and service) staff will be impacted, affecting their ability to serve their customers; the ones paying the bills.
If you are involved in a sales or service job, the traditional definition of “customer” will be familiar to you. You’re probably already intimately familiar with the “Customer is always right” mantra. It goes without saying that the phrase, taken literally, is untrue. But the meaning of it is undeniably correct. The goal of a salesperson or customer service representative can rarely be achieved without customer satisfaction.
Unsatisfied customers don’t always directly express their unhappiness. That doesn’t mean that their discontent won’t impact you. Word-of-mouth becomes increasingly more powerful because of social media and the ubiquity of services like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Angie’s List, etc. There are people who would prefer not to engage in a confrontational situation that would address their dissatisfaction, but would share their experience and unhappiness with friends and anonymously with millions of web site readers. The fact that this person will not be a returning customer should also be of great concern.
Internally, in a Manager:Direct Report relationship, these things are also true. A manager who does not treat his staff (or certain staff members well) or does not provide the tools for success may not receive direct negative feedback out of fear of reprisal, but eventually, there will be a steep price paid. Lost productivity, staff turnover, and low morale all negatively contribute, directly or indirectly, to a company’s bottom line.
An IT Manager who does not consider his end-users’ feedback or concerns when implementing technologies is not providing good customer service. Software and systems that are disliked, not embraced, or are not transparent to the end-user are going to lead to discontent internal customers, who will not have the tools they need (or feel they need) to serve the company’s paying customers.
Customers, internal and external, sometimes do silly and foolish things, like not reading instructions, wanting to pay less than cost, expecting miracles, etc. These things are a distraction from the important fact that they are still customers. Without them, there would be no business.
Every day, we encounter examples of poor customer service, whether it’s the clerk at the supermarket or the technical support person on the telephone. We know how it feels to be treated poorly, or to feel like our business is unimportant to a company. The bottom line is that we should always treat all of our customers the way we wish to be treated. Every customer wants to be treated fairly and equitably. In that respect, the customer is always right.
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING:
30 Ways to Show Your Customer is Always Right – Entrepreneur.com
Nuts!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success – by Kevin Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg
The Customer is always right? Wrong! – by Flavio Martins – WinTheCustomer.com
Focusing on the Internal Customer -by Nancy Mobely – Inc.com