Internal or external customer: Where is the difference?

Client internal or external; Who is who?

Although Karld Albrech and Jack Carson popularized the term Internal Customer in their books "The Excellence of Services" and "The Revolution of Services" for more than a decade, its use has not been generalized and it is not for everyone is clear that until recently and forever was nothing more than the worker, wage earner, laborer, worker and at most, human resource, for now is a customer. Those who reason like this affirm "The customer is the one who pays" and they do not pay, but charge.

In this article we intend to analyze where the main similarities and differences between the internal and external clients lie, for this we will start from concepts raised by the international standards ISO 9000 of 2000, in these:

  • Un Client is the Organization or person that receives a product.
  • Un Products is the result of a process.
  • And a Our Process the Set of mutually related or interacting activities, which transform inputs into outputs.

From the union of the three previous concepts, it would be correct to state that all organization or a person who goes to another with a view to receiving the result of the process that is generated in this can be considered a client.

Or put another way, every person or organization that reaches another with needs to be satisfied and the latter, by carrying out a set of activities, transforms the dissatisfactions presented by the former into satisfactions, it may be called a client.

Even if conceptually, using the previous concepts, the term internal client is sustainable, not everyone will accept this definition and there are differences between the two types of client that notably separate them, among which are:

  • The needs they satisfy.
  • The ways in which they reward the satisfaction of your needs.
  • The customer's power of choice.
  • The duration of the process of meeting the needs.

Each of the above conditions will be analyzed in detail below.  

The needs they satisfy:

The regular customer normally comes to the organization to satisfy a majority and easily identified need: food, transportation, thirst, recreation, recovery of optimal health, etc., while in the case of the internal customer for most people, Even for many of their own internal customers, they only go to organizations to acquire money, when in reality, they seek to satisfy needs for affiliation, security, self-esteem, self-realization, power.

It may be the case that under certain conditions they indistinctly prioritize one or another need, but that is not that the internal client seeks the satisfaction of their needs independently, but that for this they and their way of satisfying them are clearer.

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Both types of customers when receiving a product generally satisfy not a single need but a set of these.

In the case of the external client, the amplitude of the set is more often broader and known, although when consuming a soft drink the thirst is satisfied as a primary and notable need, it may also be satisfying a social or affiliation need if the act of Drinking is done in a collective or a need for status if a brand or expensive soft drink is purchased or in a renowned establishment and even a need for self-fulfillment if in the past the consumer could not access the type of drink that he tastes today.

When it comes to the internal customer, despite the fact that there are multiple authors (Maslow, Mac. Gregor) who have described the set of needs that can be satisfied through work, for most people the only or the fundamental purpose pursued a worker is the satisfaction of a physiological need by obtaining money and rarely recognize in others the needs of security, social, self-fulfillment and self-esteem.

The ways they give back to meeting your needs

While it is clear to everyone that the fundamental way that the external customer has to reward the satisfaction of a need is money, without ignoring the others, not everyone realizes that it is through their own physical and mental effort that the internal customer returns satisfaction of a need. 

Most feel they are doing them a favor by paying the worker for their work and letting him work, while begging the outside customer to do them the favor of letting him serve them. In their myopia they do not realize that if the inmate had not needed to satisfy needs through work and consequently had not paid with his effort to satisfy these needs then they would not be in a position to offer a product and recover the money paid.

Just as the external customer pays more than the cost of the product received, the internal customer receives less money than the equivalent of the effort made, the surplus payment from the external customer being the materialization of the value added by the internal customer and consequently the only way of greedThey are therefore heads and tails of the coin called profit.

The customer's power of choice

"The client is the King" affirm those who know that they depend on the external client and recognize him as the only client, and they do not cease to have a certain reason, they depend on him to materialize their profit and he knows it, but as almost always it does not exist a single supplier of a product or service and, as the differences between the different suppliers are increasingly smaller and more difficult to achieve in the products themselves, they try to achieve it in the personalization of the product to the type of the customer, thus exalting the importance of the external customer. 

This situation gives great power to the external customer who, when he is not totally satisfied with a supplier, will abandon him and look for another.

The internal client does not have the same fate, since they have to face a market where job providers are scarce and their peers, the other internal clients are willing to do anything to get a job to satisfy their needs. Those who have work pray not to lose it because if they did, they might not be able to find it again. 

When a source of employment provider recognizes in one of its workers a unique or rare skill, it does everything possible to keep it, then granting him the customer treatment that he has always deserved and that has rarely been granted.

In summary, the external client enjoys the power of choice since its offer to the supplier is more scarce than what the latter contributes, while the internal client rarely has the power of choice since its supply is abundant and what it demands is scarce.

The duration of the needs satisfaction process

This characteristic, despite being the last, is perhaps the most important since it is the one that in our opinion most influences that it is not recognized by the entire existence of the internal client.

The duration of the service cycle by which the external customer receives the product that meets their needs is relatively very short compared to the service cycle that meets the needs of the internal customer.

Usually external customers consume any type of product or receive a personal attention service sporadically, even when the interaction is daily, generally the interval of time they spend interacting with the service to satisfy a specific need is small compared to the total hours of the day, this means that during that short period of time the external client is forced to make an assessment of the quality of the product or service received based on the relationship between what you obtained and what you expected to obtain.

This brevity induces the client to be more objective in their assessment and it is very difficult to modify the assessment process of this by making changes in their expectations, needs or in the assessment of what is received. All this proposed process could be summarized as the contraction of the service cycle through an understanding of the moments of truth.

In contrast to the above is the process by which the internal customer satisfies their needs. In this case, the internal customer generally interacts with the service cycle almost every day and at least 8 out of 24 hours a day. 

In such a way that the internal client rarely expects their needs to be satisfied immediately but over time, this causes their needs, priorities and expectations to change during this period, during which it is achieved that the internal customer's assessment is more subjective, passive and subject to greater influence from the person offering the service (employer). 

This other case could be summarized as the dilation of the service cycle through the expansion of moments of truth.

Another argument in favor of the internal customer lies in the fact that, as is known, the concept of process has a relative character since all the activities that are carried out in an entity from the reception of the raw material to the product can be considered a process. finished or the sales area or on the contrary can be considered processes, each of the areas where some type of operation is carried out during the reception, storage or transformation of the initial product until it becomes a final product.

Therefore, then each of the independent areas within the entity could be considered a client of its predecessor in the transformation process and therefore would be an internal client, in the same way, within the same area, each worker who performs an operation or group Of these, it can be considered independently as the executor of a process and everyone who depends on it will be its client, so this will also be one more element that validates the existence of the internal client.

Once all the Insights above, the following conclusions can be reached.


  • According to Insights From the concepts of client, product and process, every worker has the right to be considered a client.
  • The fundamental reasons why many do not recognize the existence of the internal client are:
      • The needs they satisfy.
      • The way they give back to meeting your needs.
      • The customer's power of choice.
      • The duration of the process of meeting the needs.

The possibility that each power process presents in turn to be decomposed into another set of processes becomes another reason for the existence of the internal client.

I am a dreamer and in my dreams I believe that a better world is possible, that no one knows more than anyone, we all learn from everyone. I love gastronomy, numbers, teaching and sharing all the little I know, because by sharing I also learn. "Let's all go together from foundation to success"
internal or external customer
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