Who comes first – the Customer or the Employee?

By March 9, 2016 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on March 8th 2016

Lucy Kiruthu

There is a quote by Richard Branson of the Virgin brand that has become a favourite of many employees. It reads “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers”. Many versions exist and there is even one that starts with “Clients do not come first, employees come first”. I am yet to trace whether indeed this part of the quote is from Branson as purported. This quote on taking care of employees has provoked an interesting debate on the customer and employee positioning in organizations. Who comes first? The customer or the employee?

Without the employee a company would not be able to serve its customers and without customers a company would not be able to pay its staff. At the center of the customer service debate is the employee and employer relationship or the staff and manager relationship. This relationship is critical in ensuring a great customer experience. I know without doubt that internal service parallels external service and happy employees result to happy customers. Indeed companies that report high employee engagement and retention rates have more loyal customers than those whose employee are disgruntled. Branson goes on to say “If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile” which further puts more weight on the leadership role in driving customer satisfaction through  a focus on the employee. One of Virgin’s employees in response to Branson’s Facebook post on taking care of staff responds by saying “taking care of your employee surprisingly does not always mean paying them more”, she adds “People want recognition for a job well done”. It seems that employee appreciation and recognition are characteristic of Virgin’s culture.

Richard Branson and a few other CEOs are well known for being key proponents of putting employees first and focusing on the customer experience inside out. How many of our CEOs read from a similar script? How many business leaders would say that their focus on people is unmatched? How many are as excited about Branson’s quote as their employees?  What message are employees sending by their excitement about these quotes? Many employees certainly see a gap in their leader’s perspective of the happy employee happy customer equation. Many employees feel that there is too much focus on the customer and little focus on the employees. Where are the human resource professional in this debate?

A newly released book by Dale Partridge titled “People over profit” gives seven practical guidelines or attitudes that add to this debate. The first attitude titled people matter alludes to the phenomenon that how you make customers and employees feel about themselves, says a lot about your business.  It is evident that if we want to excel in service to the customer the best starting point is to focus on the employees. Most of our business leaders need to focus on their employees to see results in the customer experience. Richard Branson’s sumps up the focus on employees by saying that “in the end shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff remains happy.”

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on lucy@evolve-consultants.com/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy

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