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The Client Coworker

In the business world, the idea of being customer service and customer satisfaction oriented is not a new concept. Even in businesses that are not directly working with the public, the idea of structuring the company to satisfy the needs of its employees – the people working hard daily to keep it in business – has become a core objective. Successful companies realize the value of being service oriented for these internal “customers.”

For those segments of business which have no practical experience in developing a customer service mentality, i.e. no contact with the public and “true customers,” the trend is to change the work ethic of employees so that they begin to view those colleagues who use their work products as customers.

When properly implemented, each employee actually begins to view each other, their bosses and especially people who rely on their work in other departments as customers or clients. In theory, this approach intends to build a customer service mentality, particularly among employees whose work will only impact colleagues working in other departments of the firm.

The client coworker approach is truly innovative because it challenges the traditionally theory of customer service. Employees who are typically motivated to provide good service to external clients now come to work with the expectation that their internal clients are relying on their expertise in order to complete a task or bigger project. Employees take greater ownership of their work product, and become more creative and entrepreneurial which, at the end of the day, positively impacts the bottom line of the organization.

Despite the clear-cut benefits of adopting the client coworker methodology, it can be tremendously difficult to change the outdated mindset found within most traditional offices.  The “cubicle farm” setting used by many is exemplified best in the comic strip Dilbert.   That strip can be painful to read if you are a manager trying to inspire your team to continue moving forward. But Dilbert does point out some of the more common communication problems such as distrust of management and the tendency of employees to become unproductive as their disillusionment with the company grows.

As previously mentioned, the client coworker model is based on the idea of employee empowerment. As employees begin to recognize their intrinsic value as a member of the team, they take ownership of their work product and find ways to become more effective and efficient. This effort is reinforced by the positive feedback provided by their coworkers for a job well done.

There are tremendous benefits to adopting the client coworker method, especially within the internal support functions of a company. When combined with other empowering techniques such as process improvement and open communication with all levels of management, it can improve work relationships and staff morale in the office, and may even help reduce employee turnover and associated costs for hiring new employees.

However, the negatives of the client customer model have to be avoided. This approach can create animosity between coworkers and hard feelings when one employee feels that he or she is not being treated like a customer by another. The client customer model can create distance between peer employees and reduce comradery which has a great deal of value in a team oriented corporate culture. But a wise manager can implement the client customer model to a business setting and harvest from it the productivity gains while skillfully avoiding the pitfalls.


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