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Everyone is Not a Customer in TQM

by Ron Kurtus (revised 27 May 2008)

Some sources and books on Total Quality Management (TQM) and Six Sigma say that you should satisfy your customer and that everyone you deal with is a customer.

This is an unfortunate distortion of TQM and is contrary to good business concepts.

In any business, there are customers, suppliers and users. Some may be internal to your company and some external. Everyone is not your customer.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Customers

Your customers are the people that pay you money for goods and services. You may have internal customers, while the company has external customers.

Internal customers

If you are working in a job, your internal customer is the person responsible for your paycheck. That is usually your boss. He or she is the person you need to satisfy with the work you produce. If you are jobbed out to another department, you still need to make sure your boss is happy before anyone else.

Everyone has an internal customer until you get to the owner of the company. Even the CEO has someone responsible to pay him or her.

External customers

The external customers are those that purchase goods or services from the company. They are the company's customers. If the company is properly run, assignments you get will have the goal of satisfying those customers.

Suppliers

Your suppliers are those that provide you will goods and services needed to do your job. If you have a hand in paying them, then you are their customer. There are internal and external suppliers. The misconception that everyone is your customer states that suppliers are your customer. But that is incorrect, since you pay them and they don't pay you.

In order to produce quality goods, you need to get quality parts and services from your suppliers. It is wise to encourage and help them provide you with the quality you desire.

Internal suppliers

Within a company, you may be the boss or supervisor of some people, such that you have a hand in their performance appraisal and in them getting paid. These are your internal suppliers.

But also, there may be people that assist you but report to someone else. These are indirect suppliers to you.

External suppliers

The company purchases goods and services from external companies. These are the company's external suppliers. If you have direct dealing and handle paying them, they can be considered your external suppliers.

Users

Within a company, you may use equipment or supplies that someone else paid for. You are not a customer. Instead, you are a user. Likewise, you may sell some goods to a person who pays you, but will not use the product.

A good example is in selling a toy for a child to her mother. The store owner hope to make the child (user) happy with the toy, but ultimately it is the child's mother who pays for the toy and must be satisfied as the customer.

In such a case, you not only must make sure you satisfy the customer, but also the user.

Summary

It is incorrect when some sources say that that everyone you deal with is a customer. This is an unfortunate distortion of TQM and is contrary to good business concepts. In any business, there are customers, suppliers and users. Some may be internal to your company and some external.


Satisfy the customer


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

The following resources provide information on this subject:

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Books

Top-rated books on Business Quality

Top-rated books on Six Sigma


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