Why Putting Customers First Can Damage Your Business

(By Bruna Martinuzzi)

One of the most caring things you can do to show people you value them is to treat them equally. No leader worth his salt sets out to treat people unequally, but it’s easy to unintentionally slip. There are myriad ways that we unwittingly treat people unequally during the course of a busy workday. For example, do you habitually interrupt an employee who’s talking to a manager when you wouldn’t think of doing this if the conversation involved two managers?

Who do you value more: your customers or your employees? A conventional response might be “customers.” But research shows companies that put employees first and customers second fare better financially.

The reasons why are clear: When you care deeply for your employees, you end up with a more engaged and happy workforce. And happy employees create happy customers.

In 2005, Vineet Nayar, former CEO of  HCL Technologies, a global provider of IT services, instituted an “Employees First, Customers Second” approach, a radical move that turned his company around. In the ten years since, the company has been one of the fastest-growing technology companies in the world—even during the depths of the economic downturn.

The company credits its success to what it calls its “Employees First” movement. Nayar’s book, Employees First, Customers Second, details how HCL Technologies changed its culture and made its employees the company’s number-one asset.

Who’s Number One?

In Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success, authors Kevin and Jackie Freiberg take us behind the scenes at Southwest Airlines, the nation’s largest domestic carrier. Like HCL Technologies, the airline has created a culture where employees are treated as the company’s number-one asset. Southwest’s company culture is rooted in the belief that happy employees equal happy customers. As the authors note, a great part of the company’s success is the result of its employee-centric approach to doing business. And while customers come second, they still get great service.

“A truly human-centered organization puts its people first—even above customers—because it recognizes that they’re the key to creating long-term value,” say authors Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath in The New York Times article “Why You Hate Work.” They cite Costco as an example of a company that makes a huge investment in its employees, resulting in a distinct advantage over its biggest competitor, Sam’s Club. Costco’s employees generate nearly twice the sales of Sam’s Club employees.

Dr. Noelle Nelson, author of Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy, cites research that shows companies which effectively appreciate the value of their employees enjoy a return on equity and assets that’s more than triple of that experienced by firms which don’t. And if you think that only big companies can afford to value their employees effectively, this study dispels that notion. It looked at 26,000 employees at all levels in 31 organizations of varying types and sizes.

Creating a culture that treats its employees as its most valued customers is a surefire way to increase your chances of success. The following six tips can help you show your employees just how much you value them:

1. Know Your People

Take a close look at your entire staff to see who’s creating the most value for your company. These are the people who serve your customers well, who problem solve and who deliver results, day in and day out. They’re the ones who have your company’s best interests at heart. They might be the first ones in to work while no one else is around. Or they might stay late to complete a report or regularly sacrifice personal and family time for business travel. They’re always there for you, whenever you need them. They always go above and beyond the call of duty.

Without these people, your company would suffer. Show them that you know who they are. Let them know that you deeply value them. Don’t take for granted what they do for you.

2. See Those Who Are Invisible

Make a point of valuing everyone’s contribution. The guy who works the graveyard shift, the person who makes the coffee, the janitor who cleans the washrooms: White collar to blue collar, they all contribute essential services to help your company function.There are many unsung heroes who go about their work every day without attracting attention to themselves. Turn this around by noticing them and letting them know that you see them and appreciate what they do for you.

3. Adopt the Green Goldfish Philosophy

The “green goldfish” philosophy is the brainchild of Stan Phelps, founder of 9 INCH Marketing and author of What’s Your Green Goldfish? Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Drive Employee Engagement and Reinforce Culture. The approach is an offspring of Phelps’ “purple goldfish” customer service philosophy that suggested one way to win customers was to go above and beyond to give a little something extra to customers. The original idea came from the Kimpton hotels, which give lone travelers what the company calls “Guppy Love”: a goldfish in a bowl in their room.

Phelps advocates using the same philosophy for employees: Give them something extra, just as you might do for your customers. His philosophy is based on the premise that employees are the key drivers of customer experience and that “happy employees create happy customers.” As Phelps puts it in a post on his blog, “Value is created in the last two feet of a transaction. The space between the employee and the customer.”

According to Phelps, there are three types of green fish that make up the journey to winning employees’ hearts:

  • Basics: creating a stable environment where people can thrive
  • Belonging: enabling high functioning teams and recognizing their efforts
  • Building: empowering employees to learn, give back and take control of their destiny
4. Show Your Gratitude

Find ways to show your employees how grateful you are for them. Here’s an idea that comes from Southwest Airlines: The company has institute a SWAG(Southwest Airlines Gratitude) program. Each employee has a SWAG account, a place to keep track of all the recognitions they receive. These help them earn SWAG points that can be exchanged for various rewards such as guest passes, merchandise or gift cards. Gratitude is a big component of Southwest’s culture, and it’s exhibited in a myriad of ways, from giving praise for a job well done to handing out awards. How can you adapt this idea to reward your own employees’ efforts?

5. Keep an Eye on Organizational Stress

Work-related stress isn’t always visible unless you care to notice. Pay attention to how your employees feel. Listen to people when they complain about their workload. Make sure people take regular vacations.

As a leader or business owner, people’s well-being at work is your responsibility. For example, do you create undue stress with arbitrary deadlines? Do you approach minor and major projects with the same heightened urgency? Do you transfer your own stress to employees? Do you catch people just as they’re leaving to go home to discuss business issues that can wait until the next day? Do you chose to discuss business concerns late on a Friday afternoon even if it’s something that can wait until Monday morning? Pay attention to your actions—you can help reduce your employees’ on-the-job stress.

6. Treat People Equally

One of the most caring things you can do to show people you value them is to treat them equally. No leader worth his salt sets out to treat people unequally, but it’s easy to unintentionally slip. There are myriad ways that we unwittingly treat people unequally during the course of a busy workday. For example, do you habitually interrupt an employee who’s talking to a manager when you wouldn’t think of doing this if the conversation involved two managers?

There are many small moves you can make to genuinely show that you respect everyone. For example:

  • List every employee’s name on your company website.
  • If you connect to some of your employees on LinkedIn, you should connect to all the others.
  • Don’t burden one or two people with an excessive workload just because they’re efficient and don’t have the courage to complain while lightening the load on others who are vocal and more likely to push back.
  • Share information about your vision, your goals, your strategy and your thinking.
  • Include everyone in your regular business updates.
  • Rotate who gets to represent the company at conferences.
  • Give everyone equal access to private time with you.
  • When you take an important customer around your office, introduce everyone, not just the senior staff.

People notice small details like these. Think about all the ways you can show your people that everyone is equally valued.

If customers are the lifeblood of your company, then employees are the veins. Showing that you care for them, and that you value them as much as, if not more than, you value your customers is crucial to your long-term success. Cared-for employees translate to cared-for customers. And that’s a credo worth adopting.

Source: Openforum

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”



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