Fundamentals of Customer Service: Who Is Your Customer?

This article covers many key terms, as well as describes how there can be any combination and any number of suppliers and customers, depending on the process you’re looking at. You have to be continually creating and reinforcing a reputation in your community and in the industry, while, internally, you should be a great department and ensure everyone in your organization — and within your extended enterprise of vendors and partners — knows that you deliver great service. This article will help you provide the best service possible, whether you are a supplier or a customer.

Fundamentals of Customer Service: Who Is Your Customer?
Fundamentals of Customer Service: Who Is Your Customer?

The word “customer” is going to be used quite a bit in these programs. So it’s probably a good idea to make sure that everyone’s talking about the same thing throughout the programs. So what’s a customer? And who is one?

A general dictionary definition of a customer is,

someone who purchases goods or services from a business.

For you, that’s way too limiting. Let’s examine the keywords in this definition:

Someone: A customer is not necessarily a “someone.” It can be a person. But it can also be a group. Or it could be an entirely different organization or collection of organizations.

Purchases: Customers don’t have to purchase anything. Governmental agencies serve the public. A charity serves its community. A weekly newspaper services its neighborhood. Sure, you can argue that somebody’s paying for them indirectly, but it isn’t necessarily the people being served.

There are also internal customers who are served by other departments or employees. No money is changing hands there, either. Yet they’re still customers, at the end of a process chain.

Goods and services: A customer doesn’t have to directly obtain goods and services. A customer might receive information, or skills, or a pat on the back. It doesn’t have to be tangible.

And finally, from a business. While most people use the “customer” word in the context of a purchase, like a store’s customer buying at retail, that doesn’t have to be the case. Non-profits can serve customers. Individuals can serve customers. So can workgroups, or departments, or organizations, or even an extended network of organizations cooperating with each other.

The point is, don’t restrict how you look at customers and customer service to a buying transaction. True customer service is much bigger than that. In reality, a customer is simply defined as “whoever is being served.” And, on the other side, whoever is providing that service is defined as the supplier.

Now when you look at it from a process standpoint, you discover some interesting characteristics about this supplier-to-customer relationship. First, it’s not necessarily a one-to-one situation. In a given transaction, there can be multiple suppliers for one customer. For example, a shopper buying an automobile is served by the dealer’s salesperson, the sales manager, the finance manager, and the detailer in the maintenance department. So there are multiple suppliers, the various dealership personnel, and one customer, the buyer.

There can also be multiple customers for a single supplier. For example, school teachers obviously serve their students. But they also serve their students’ parents. That’s external. Internally, teachers serve their fellow teachers, their department head, their principal, and various headquarters staff. They answer to state and federal regulations as to what they teach.

So there is one supplier, the teacher, and multiple customers. In fact, there can be any combination and any number of suppliers and customers, depending upon the process you’re looking at. It can be a one-to-one situation or a many-to-many transaction. It just depends.

Another thing that can happen is that it’s possible to be both a supplier and a customer. For example, consider route delivery drivers. In the morning, they receive a loaded truck. The truck needs to be arranged properly by the warehouse personnel, depending upon the order of stops for the day. So the drivers are customers of the warehouse. At the end of the day, the drivers come back with any undelivered goods. They return these to the warehouse, along with an inventory of items. So here, the warehouse is the customer of the drivers.

Now, wait a minute. How can the driver be both a customer and a supplier, and the same for the warehouse? They can’t be both. It’s got to be one or the other, doesn’t it?

Actually, no. What’s going on here? Well, you’re looking at DIFFERENT PROCESSES. In the morning, it was the loading process. Here, the warehouse supplied the drivers. The drivers were customers of the warehouse. In the afternoon, it was the return process. Then, the drivers supplied the warehouse. The warehouse personnel was the customers of the drivers, just the opposite.

So the same people, or entities, can be both a supplier and a customer. Why? It depends upon the process. They just can’t be both for the same process.

This can even happen with those outside your organization. For example, you consider yourself a customer of one of your suppliers, such as someone your organization buys office furniture from. But have you considered that they’re also YOUR customer?

First, a supplier like this can serve you best if you assist them, essentially treating them like a customer. You can continually let them know your needs. You can share your schedules and future buying plans. You can build relationships with them so that they can make better recommendations for you. And by being one of their best, easiest customers to work with, you can get special breaks and extra service when you need it. Even though you’re buying from them, there are good reasons to treat them like a customer.

Second, great organizations consider EVERYONE to be a potential customer. It might be true if you’re a consumer goods firm. But what if you’re something like an industrial supplier? Whatever you are, you’re continually creating and reinforcing a reputation in your community, and in the industry. You want to be a great company and have your pick of the best employee candidates. That means that everyone you deal with– clients, suppliers, partners, competitors, you name it– is, in a way, a customer.

And internally, you want to be a great department, and have everyone in your organization, and within your extended enterprise of vendors and partners, know that you deliver great service.

So what’s a customer? Anyone you serve.

Keywords

  • Someone: A customer is not necessarily a “someone.” It can be a person, group, organization, or collection of organizations.
  • Purchases: Customers don’t always have to purchase something. It can be people/groups that serve the public.
  • Goods and services: A customer doesn’t have to directly obtain goods and services. It may receive information, skills, or a pat on the back.
  • From a business: Individuals, non-profits, workgroups, departments, or organizations can serve customers.
  • Customer: Whoever is being served.
  • Supplier: Whoever is providing that service.
  • Don’t restrict how you look at customers and customer service to a buying transaction.

Reminder

  • In many cases, a supplier can serve you best if you assist them, essentially treating them like a customer.
  • Great organizations consider EVERYONE to be a potential customer.
  • Internally, be a great department – have everyone you work with or for, know that you deliver great service.
  • There can be multiple customers for a single supplier.
  • It’s possible to be both a customer and a provider in one process chain.
  • A customer is ANYONE you serve!

Evaluation

Question 1

Is it possible to be both a supplier and a customer in the same process chain?

A. Yes
B. No

Correct Answer:
A. Yes

Question 2

How does this lesson suggest you treat your supplier?

A. Treat them the way you want to be treated
B. Treat them like a customer
C. Treat them like family

Correct Answer:
B. Treat them like a customer

Question 3

According to the lesson, “In a given transaction, there can be multiple suppliers for one customer.”

A. TRUE
B. FALSE

Correct Answer:
A. TRUE

Question 4

Whoever is providing a service to a customer is defined in this lesson as the ____________.

A. interlocutor
B. professional
C. business
D. supplier

Correct Answer:
D. supplier

Question 5

Which of these is an external customer to a school teacher?

A. A student’s parents
B. The janitorial staff
C. The principal
D. A fellow teacher

Correct Answer:
A. A student’s parents

Question 6

According to this lesson, a customer should be defined specifically as ‘a person who purchases a product.’

A. TRUE
B. FALSE

Correct Answer:
B. FALSE

Question 7

_______ customers are fellow members of an organization who may be dependent on the product of a process chain.

A. External
B. Internal
C. Intrinsic
D. Redundant

Correct Answer:
B. Internal

Question 8

This lesson identifies customers as a person or group who receives _________. (Check all that apply.)

A. a product
B. a service
C. information
D. skilled assistance

Correct Answer:
A. a product
B. a service
C. information
D. skilled assistance

Published by Silvia Emma

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