Who comes first -- customers or employees?
It depends. Asking whether customers or employees come first is like arguing about the chicken and the egg. Successful businesses respond to all stakeholders -- employees, customers, partners and investors.
Having said that, studies have recently shown that employee loyalty and work satisfaction leads to higher profitable growth. Does that mean that solely focusing on employee happiness and loyalty will guarantee profits? I doubt it.
But I'd challenge anybody to show examples of profitable, growing businesses with employees waiting to leave for greener pastures. What are we really saying to our employees when we say, "the customer is always right" or "the customer comes first"?
I recently heard of a manufacturing plant in North Carolina that "fired" a customer. It seems the customer was making unreasonable demands on an employee. The president explained that no employee should have to deal with inappropriate behavior.
What kind of message did this send to his employees? You're important. You're valuable. You're part of our family. Family supports one another. What kind of loyalty do you think this instilled in his people?
I'm not suggesting we fire customers that employees can't handle. We need to respond to both when running a successful business. I am suggesting that we consider making employees our most important customers and see what happens.
Here are some strategies you might consider if you want to show your employees they are your most important customers:
* Make contact at every level. Get out in the trenches and show your employees that you care. People who feel cared for will care more. You will learn much more about what's really happening in your company and morale will soar.
* Celebrate successes together. Recognize your service heroes and those who help colleagues. Formal and informal recognition programs can be very effective, as can setting aside a special time regularly to thank your people.
* Create a feeling of family. Service begins in the workplace and emanates outward. Encourage your people to treat each other as their most important customers. Be ever cognizant and involve your people in decisions; give them a sense of ownership and belonging.
* Balance financial and humanistic approaches. It is a very delicate balance, but the humanistic approach often yields the highest financial results. People work better and handle customers better when they feel valued. Find ways to continually measure the sense of loyalty and morale in your workplace.
* Formalize your culture. Seek input. Capture it. Name it. Share it. Live it. Keep it sincere. Create a mission statement and an official set of philosophies and values. Make sure it withstands growth and change. Have organized programs to review, re-energize and reinforce your culture.
Should your company's main focus be on its people? Would your people then focus on better serving your customers? Would more profits be the end result?
Take the challenge and find out. Making your people your most important customers could be the most sustainable road to profitability. Yes, the approach is unconventional. But the results have been unquestionable.
Brad Larsen is a life coach and corporate consultant from Northern Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.