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On the podcast: The value of treating internal clients like customers

August 17, 2021 | Bonfire Interactive

Customer service headphones used by procurement professionals

You’ve likely heard this frustrating and all-too-common misconception about procurement: it’s all about rules, red tape, and getting in the way. 

In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While compliance is the backbone of good procurement, that doesn’t mean sacrificing customer service. In fact, the best procurement teams are also supportive peers, strategic allies, and expert consultants who help internal partners get the goods and services they need at the best value.

In our third episode of Inside Public Procurement, special guest Aaron Howell tackles this contentious topic head on. Dishing insights from an impressive career in finance and higher education, he shares best practices for balancing compliance and customer service to build better relationships and long-term wins in your organization.

Keep reading for key takeaways from the show, and tune in to the full episode on our website or wherever you get your podcasts!

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Customer-centric culture starts at the top

As the Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Kennesaw State University, Aaron has nearly 25 years of higher education experience, including past roles as Vice President for Business & Finance/CFO at Averett University and Assistant Vice President & Controller at Oregon State University. 

Having led purchasing teams in multiple organizations, he knows firsthand the role that customer service plays in procurement’s ability to drive success. He says that, ultimately, laying the foundation for a customer service model has to come from the top.

“Compliance is a given for me. We’re never going to do it wrong, we’re always going to do it right, even when it’s complicated. If that’s the given, then let’s focus on how we can deliver the most effective customer service. Let’s make sure that I am continually repeating and then I’m modeling good customer service,” Aaron says.

In episode three, he explains what leaders can do to set the right tone and ensure the internal client experience is top of mind in procurement strategy and processes.

Creating relationships rooted in empathy

But what, exactly, does client service mean in a procurement context? And what strategies can procurement professionals use to improve it?

At its most basic level, customer service is about building strong relationships and demonstrating care. Aaron has seen, again and again, that internal stakeholders want one key thing: empathy. They’re looking for procurement to “take an interest in their work and the challenges that they face.”

“I really do think that they hope for somebody [in procurement] who’s a partner—who understands and helps them solve their challenges.”

In our chat, Aaron says he’s seen some of his biggest breakthroughs in client relationships when he’s gone the extra mile to make a personal connection. That can be as simple as walking across the office or setting up a call to ask questions, understand their needs, and show you’re on their side.

“It’s really amazing how you can change your relationship by doing that—by reversing the stereotype. Not only do you get an opportunity to deepen the relationship, but you can provide some training while you’re there.”

Building a reputation for strategic leadership

By focusing on the client experience and investing in better relationships with internal stakeholders, Aaron says procurement can reverse the misconception that their only job is to push compliance and stonewall projects.

That opens up space for procurement professionals to shape their role in the organization as collaborative partners and consultants who help clients make the most of their budgets, find efficiencies, and achieve success together.

“The better we do, the more we’ll be viewed and treated as strategic allies within our organizations. Ultimately, I think that is where we would all like to be.”

Listen today

Bring episode three on your morning walk or commute, and catch our full conversation with Aaron! Plus, dig into more tips, insights, and inspiration you can use to level up your procurement strategy.

Hungry for more in-the-field insights from the world of public procurement? Head over to our website, or find Inside Public Procurement on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts!

About the author

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Bonfire Interactive

Bonfire helps public procurement teams reach better sourcing outcomes through an experience that’s blazingly fast, powered by peer insights, and so easy to use—vendors love it just as much as buyers do.