Adjust your worldview to serve internal and external customers

By Toni Bowers | October 8, 2012, 5:32 AM PDT

Patrick Gray presented an article here recently dissecting Apple's mapping gaffe. He suggests that as IT becomes further engrained in a company's core functions, IT professionals must ask the question, "Who is my customer?" He points out that many IT teams now have two sets of customers: internal and external, and that teams need to learn how to serve both.

But learning to do this isn't an overnight task. It will take time to develop and implement strategies that allow you to do this well. I'm not suggesting a major overhaul of your IT team, but I am suggesting some basic strategies you can implement to serve both groups better.

Adjust how you view your job (and communicate it with your team). This is by far the most important strategy. Since it's not just your job anymore to keep the company's technology working you must openly recognize that your customers extend outside of the organization. The best way I know to do this is to talk about it. Bring it up as a talking point during a team meeting. Discuss with your team what this means in relation to your product, your organization and its customers. This important thing here isn't to make a checklist or to develop a new process. This is simply about adjusting the team's worldview about who it serves.

Implement software that accomplishes certain tasks quickly or automatically. Since you're adding a new concept to your workday, you need to find a way to lessen your workload a bit. This might require a conversation with your manager or the CFO to get you the technology you need. For example, the right database monitoring software can save you a lot of time finding and/or preventing problems.

Also, keep abreast of technologies. The fact that you're reading this shows that you probably already do this. Just be sure to focus on technology that matters to your job. Don't just read about the "cool new tech." Read about some "boring but useful" stuff, too.

Think about your tasks from both points of view and find where they intersect. Serving internal customers is not dichotomous to serving external ones. For example, let's say people from your company often attend trade shows. The company representative will use some type of technology to track leads.

In one aspect, you're serving your internal customers by making sure that technology works the way it's supposed to, but you also serve external customers by making sure their information is saved correctly in the database so they don't receive spam. In this way, serving your internal customer helps you serve the external, and vice-versa.

Keep a list of objectives present. You need two columns. The first column tells you what it looks like to serve your internal customers. The second column tells you what it looks like to serve external customers. Keep this list on the whiteboard or on the top page of a legal pad. This is a great reference and reminder of how to think through serving both sets of customers. It will also help you find places where they intersect.

You might call this process "soft work." Learning to serve both sets of customers isn't about processes. It's about thinking in a new way. That takes time, so don't be discouraged if this doesn't happen all at once. Keep at it and soon enough you'll look back and different milestones and realize how many problems you avoided simply by adjusting your team worldview.

Vanessa James is a business technology consultant and blogger. She enjoys reading about new technologies, especially while listening to The Rat Pack.
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