I’ve been a customer champion for most of my career. But with the likes of Richard Branson saying it’s employees first, customers second, my confidence was beginning to slide a little.
Thank goodness, therefore, for some new research from Global RepTrak® that has finally confirmed what I have always believed. Customers care about themselves first and foremost!
Dale Carnegie spelt it out really well when he said:
“People are not interested in you. They are not interested in me. They are interested in themselves – morning, noon and after dinner.”
It was the below chart that I first saw on MarketingCharts.com that alerted me to this work by RepTrak™. (I highly recommend signing up for their daily charts by the way; they’re a great source of facts and inspiration!)
The accompanying article to the chart is a great read too. However, I wanted to take a look behind these numbers and try to understand why some influencers have been pushing employee centricity.
Products And Services Are Key
The first four factors of reputation shown in the graph above are all product related. Therefore it’s clear that customers think about themselves first. I think that’s normal, don’t you?
Great customer service won’t make up for a terrible product or service offer. So every organisation needs to ensure that what they propose is the very best they possibly can.
However, it is also true that the quality and value you offer depend to a large extent on the quality of your employees in delivering it. If employees are not motivated to give their best, then what they deliver will be sub-optimal.
This is why it is essential that everyone within a company understands their role in satisfying the customer. One of the quickest ways I have found to achieve this is by providing regular access to the customer. Once an employee sees and understands what they can do to increase satisfaction, they are much more likely to do it. After all, it’s absurd to think that they would want their employer to fail, isn’t it? In fact, I have seen a genuine excitement around customer connections whenever I have introduced them within an organisation.
Employees Are An Important Touchpoint
I think it was P&G who coined the phrase “the first moment of truth” in referring to the beginning of the shopping experience. I would, therefore, add employees, at least in retail and other consumer-facing industries, as being a close second. However, the vast majority of products are made by companies that rarely, if ever, come into direct contact with their customers. (sadly true even today, which is why I encourage regular customer connections as I mentioned earlier.)
Now it’s true that in the service industry employees matter to the customers, but I am still not convinced they come first. I still think customers will judge a hotel, a restaurant or an airline based primarily on the product and value, just like in any other industry. However, it is obvious that loyalty is impacted by and depends upon the service offered.
Shep Hyken wrote a great piece last week on this topic called “Customer Service Means Never Saying Never (But If You Must, Say It In A Different Way)” which I highly recommend. In it, he talks about the customer NOT always being right, but concludes with the old customer service saying:
“You’re not trying to win an argument. You’re trying to win a customer.”
As he says “You really can’t win an argument with a customer. If you “win,” it means the customer has “lost,” and you could end up losing the customer.”
That is why it’s important to hire the right people and then give them sufficient freedom to solve almost any issue for the customer. If you force them to follow a rulebook of acceptable answers, then you will limit their authority to satisfy the customer. They may actually end up saying “we can’t do that” to the customer, which is sure to irritate them and won’t exactly encourage loyalty! After all, isn’t that what customer service is all about, protecting the business’s current and potential customers?
Companies Should Be Ethical
Going back to the RepTrack report, it is interesting to see that ethical and fair practices score above average, yet treating employees fairly and rewarding them appropriately score well below average. Again this confirms that it is what directly impacts the customer that matters most to them.
Related Post The 7 Essential Differences Between Simply Responding to Customers and Providing True Customer Service
An organisation’s impact on society matters more to customers than their fairness to their employees. In other words, it’s the higher order practices of corporate social responsibility that enable the customer to feel good about spending their money with the company.
In fact, recent research shows that CSR has a direct impact on customers’ purchase decisions, especially for women.
Employees Are Still Important
Coming back to Branson’s position about the importance of employees, there is one of his comments that I do support. He said in an Inc interview that
“Unhappy employees can ruin the brand experience for numerous customers.”
Clearly, this is an extreme situation and management should do everything to treat their employees well; that just makes good business sense. Unhappy employees will impact your product quality and the motivation of others, not just that of your customers.
There have been many examples to confirm this, such as incidents involving FedEx, United Airlines and Domino’s to name just a few. Click on their names to remind yourself of these famous customer service disasters.
More recently the automobile industry has been facing numerous scandals of emissions and fuel economy frauds. It seems that Volkswagen was not an isolated case and since the scandal broke in September 2015, Opel, Chevrolet/GMC/Buick, Daimler, Fiat/Chrysler, Mitsubishi and most recently PSA and Renault have been scrutinised. Whether these were coordinated, isolated or employee driven is still to be ascertained.
I understand that when you’re in business, your goal is to sell products and services to your customers and make money for your shareholders.
However, why don’t employees ever ask the question about the impact of their behaviour on the customers? And if that customer was their wife, daughter, family member or friend, would that make a difference? Perhaps, but it shouldn’t; as human beings, we should want to treat every other person fairly. At least that’s what I think.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this question of customers or employees first. It’s just as conflictual and complex as the “chicken or egg” question if you ask me!