Customers Care About Products & Value, Not Employees


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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.”

People are interested in themselves – morning, noon and after dinner. Click To Tweet

It was the below chart that I first saw on 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!)

Corporate Reputation

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.

Every organisation needs to ensure that what they propose is the very best they possibly can. Click To Tweet

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.)

Most products are made by companies that rarely, if ever, come into direct contact with customers. Click To Tweet

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.

Loyalty in the service industry will be impacted by & depend upon the service offered. Click To Tweet

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?

Customer service is all about protecting the business’s current & potential customers. Click To Tweet

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.

Corporate Social Responsibility has a direct impact on consumers’ purchase decisions. Click To Tweet

Customers are interested in CSR

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.”

“Unhappy employees can ruin the brand experience for numerous customers.” Richard Branson Click To Tweet

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.

Business sells products & services to customers & makes money for shareholders. Click To Tweet

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!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Denyse Drummond-Dunn
Denyse is the Creator of the Quantum Customer Centricity (QC2™) Model. QC2™ is the New CX for organisations that want to find atomic steps that deliver quantum results, attracting, delighting & retaining more customers. Denyse is Nestle’s former Global Head of Consumer Excellence and has >30 yrs’ experience as a Speaker, Advisor and Author. She delivers inspiring keynotes, motivational talks and actionable training. Her global business consultancy, C3Centricity, has expertise in over 125 countries! Check her website and connect to discuss if she would be a great fit for your next event.


  1. I quite enjoyed this, but the one thing I don’t understand is why people who ought to know better continue to emit soundbytes that suggest that it’s a case of “THIS” thing, or THAT thing that is “most” important, when clearly the end results come from a combination of paying attention to both things, in addition to a host of other things.

    Shouldn’t we know by now that desired results come from a SYSTEM of parts that work together?

  2. Thanks for your comment Robert.
    You are right that we all need systems and processes to function in business. However the world is changing so fast these days that we also need to be flexible and adapt to these changes.
    Results do matter, but how we get them matters as much, if not even more in my opinion. There is far too much “the results warrant the action” thinking that businesses sometimes forget the importance of both employees and customers!
    And if the automobile industry is just the tip of a very deep iceberg?!

  3. I think airlines should always land in the right city and without crashing. In fact, research shows that if you asked passengers the most important feature of an airline flight, they will tell you “safety.” Safety is to airlines what quality is to products and services. There is only one problem with this line of thinking. When you ask passengers why they chose one airline over another, “safety” will not be in the top five features! Why? It is a table stake–assumed, and therefore not a driver of loyalty.

    We have reached the point where quality and price, while as crucial as safety is to an airline, are becoming a table stake. Customers assume a good product or service at a fair price. Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of an organization is to create and retain a customer.” Great products and services might create a customer–i.e., bring them in; but, their experience with the organization brings them back–i.e., retains them. And, it is generally employees who manage the experience. And, the standards for a great experience are going up. To paraphrase the old song after WW1, “How you gonna keep ’em done on the farm, after they’ve seen…well, Disney World.” So, to paraphrase Sir Richard, great people create great experiences, the cornerstone of customer loyalty.

    Finally, much of your position is crafted around customer satisfaction. Over 70% of customers who leave an organization to go with a competitor, when asked say they were satisfied or completely satisfied with the one they abandon. Smart organization work to create customer loyalty (i.e., they come back, they buy more, they forgive, they advocate), not customer satisfaction (i.e., you met my needs and expectations). My fun example is this; if you came back after a great experience—like your honeymoon–and someone asked you, “How was your honeymoon?” and you reported, “I was completely satisfied”—you get the point.

    BTW, the term “moments of truth” first came from SAS CEO Jan Carlzon (he actually wrote a book with that title). The first use of the term in a service context came from Ron Zemke and Karl Albrecht in their groundbreaking 1985 bestseller Service America! Doing Business in the New Economy! It was the foundation for what is now called Journey Mapping (back then we called it analyzing a cycle of service).

  4. I loved this post! I think that everything is in the balance. All compagny needs to adress both customer and employee needs if they want to succed. Everybody knows a company who have a great product, but such a bad culture that they cannot grow as much as they could if they had demonstrate concerns for their employees.

    As you said, I think not enough employees ask themselves about the impacts of their behaviour on the customers.

  5. Customers buy products ancd services because the benefits the gain for using they exceed the cost. The benefits are both tangible (e.e., increase production output) or emotional (e.g., I am being perceived as a thought leader). Since the employee performance is part of the benefit they are very important. But, in product based purchases it is the benefit obtained from using the product which will become the most critical attribute.

  6. Of course customers care about themselves, and their priority getting tangible and emotional value from their experiences with vendors. From an emotional perspective, reputation is clearly (proven by companies like Weber Shandwick) every bit as important in the decision process as products and services. But, for the multiple benefits of stakeholder-centricity to be realized, there must also be a culture and set of processes where employees also care about, and be committed to, customers (, as well as help to build the organization’s reputation and image. Employee ambassadorship, for example, actively takes this into consideration.. I’d also submit that this applies to ALL enterprise employees, irrespective of function, level or location, not just those on the front lines of customer contact.

    And, per two of Chip Bell’s points, satisfaction scores won’t reveal much about levels of commitment and loyalty (customers or employees), and indeed it was Jan Carlzon of SAS, who both coined the phrase ‘moments of truth’ and wrote the book by the same name 35 years ago (

  7. Thanks for your extensive commentary Chip and the valuable information included in it. I greatly appreciate your taking the time.
    Interesting comment about table stake. Agree that customers choose for price and quality, but security is still important. As I pilot, there are many airlines I won’t fly, including some in Europe! I can’t believe I’m the only one who walks the talk of security.
    I also liked your comment about customer satisfaction and loyalty. Of course customer facing industries rely on their employees for this, but I believe there is a lot (more) that manufacturing companies can do too.
    Thanks again for your additions to the conversation.

  8. Christine,
    Happy you liked the post.
    I see that you too agree that there is a lot more many organisations could / should be doing to satisfy and hopefully delight their customers.
    There is too important not to discuss. As you say, both are important but both are not viewed as important by everyone.
    Thanks again for your comments.

  9. Sam, you raise a good point, that as we Swiss say, “it depends.”
    However, don’t you think that customers are gradually paying more attention to things like ecology, sustainability and honesty?
    Paul Polman at Unilever has gradually moved the whole organisation to embrace this vision of sustainability and I for one admire him for taking this courageous stand. He may pay with his job one day, but he will have the admiration of leaders around the globe, including me.

  10. Michael, I’m honored you stopped by to add your comments.
    As you know, there’s a world between what customers say and do, sometimes because they (we) don’t even know why we do things.
    Customer satisfaction desperately needs some new metrics; I for one have been reluctant to embrace NPS as it just doesn’t work in so many industries.
    Thanks also for the link to your excellent article, a highly recommended read! Apologies for forgetting it when I did my research of recent articles, their review and links. You’re a year ahead of me in thinking about this issue it seems – doesn’t surprise me!

  11. Denyse, that depends (as we American also say). B2B customers are generally interested in ROI and Value. Some are more responsible but they are the exception.

  12. Ah Sam, don’t get me started on culture!
    I’ve worked directly with customers in over 100 countries over my career.
    Good point though.
    After all, we’re all customers and just want to pay the least for what we want to have and to feel. Pity one doesn’t guarantee the second, hence the difficult decisions we have to make when spending our hard-earned cash.
    Thanks again for continuing this interesting discussion.

  13. As you note, concur that NPS has a myriad of analytical and application challenges, and extending it to employee behavior (eNPS) is, for those of us involved in helping clients optimize stakeholder behavior, little short of illogical annexation. Employees are, or should be, involved in the entire customer experience. If they perform as ambassadors, all benefit:

  14. Hi Denyse: when you wrote, “it’s absurd to think that they would want their employer to fail, isn’t it?” – I thought you might be expressing sarcasm. But I don’t think you were. I mention this because I have learned that I can never assume an employee’s commitment to his or her employer – or vice versa!

    But I’ll move along to another thought that I think would be fascinating to test: “An organisation’s impact on society matters more to customers than their fairness to their employees.” Did this finding result from how buyers behaved, or how buyers said they would behave? There’s likely to be a difference, and I pondered how I might simulate reality through test subjects. For example, if I hired a “boss” actor and a “subordinate” actor to work with test subjects, how might a transaction go with a test customer if in Scenario A, the “boss” praised the “employee” in front of the customer and in Scenario B, the “boss” upbraided the “employee” for a mistake. In Scenario B, would the customer respond by cancelling the transaction, or making a smaller purchase than originally intended?

    I’ll tweak the parameters a bit: Same A and B scenarios, but this time, the customer understands that the “employee” receives a percentage of the revenue for each sale. Does the customer respond with a larger purchase in Scenario B, perhaps because the customers pities the employee who just got smacked around by the “boss”?

    These would be interesting comparisons to make in a controlled test, especially when CSR is added to the mix. But I think it’s tenuous to assert that an organization’s impact on society matters more than how it treats its employees. I can only speak anecdotally, but if I felt that if a company treated its employees poorly as a matter of policy, I wouldn’t buy from that company. Period. I don’t care how flamboyant they are about their CSR programs.

  15. Great article and discussion.

    My general reaction is that article title is right, but it’s not so black and white. And it’s dangerous to generalize across all sorts of businesses and types of customers.

    One extreme is a consumer that cares only about what they get, and have zero interest in how it was accomplished. Think about buying counterfeit goods, clothing made in sweat shops, wood from rain forests, …

    The other is perhaps a consumer that will continue to do business with a company it believes in, in spite of compelling evidence that the solution is noncompetitive. I’m short of examples here, but perhaps Harley Davidson customers back in the day when their motorcycles broke down all the time.

    Seriously, I can’t think of an example of a firm where how a company treats its workers is the *primary* reason why a consumer is loyal. This is the fallacy of the “employee first” mantra, in my view. Unless that employee engagement/satisfaction/advocacy (pick your favorite term) is directed towards delivering customer value, the business model will eventually fall apart.

    Anyway, that leaves a whole lot of room in the middle for “it depends.” For the majority, I think how companies treat their employees (and suppliers), is secondary to the value the customer is getting. Secondary doesn’t mean not at all important.

    That doesn’t mean executives shouldn’t treat employees well. Because, as several have noted, motivated and engaged employees can help deliver customers what they want — even if customers are not directly aware of how employees are treated. How many consumers know — or care — how Amazon treats its workers?

  16. There isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a battle for the supremacy of a particular stakeholder group. As noted, by Bob and others, customers presume that employees are treated well enough to provide requisite value delivery. In a ‘people first’ culture, such as practiced by companies like Ultimate Software and Baptist Health Care, employee commitment – to the company, the value proposition, to the customers and to each other – is the highest priority.

    Here’s a relevant section from one of blogs cited in my earlier response, identifying where employee experience and focus should be, and using Rusenbluth International as an example: “When that “something” is the optimization of customer loyalty behavior, coupled with the highest levels of employee participation and investment in reaching that goal, all parties benefit. Employee experience, then, isn’t necessarily a chicken-and-egg precursor to customer experience, but it is certainly parallel at minimum.

    Finally, for employee ambassadorship to thrive, humanity and leadership must be built into organizational DNA, and evident, everyday, throughout the enterprise. Here is one of my favorite quotes in this regard, from Hal Rosenbluth, former CEO of Rosenbluth International (now part of American Express Travel Services):

    ‘Companies are only fooling themselves when they believe that ‘The Customer Comes First.’ People do not inherently put the customer first, and they certainly don’t do it because their employer expects it. We’re not saying choose your people over your customers. We’re saying focus on your people because of your customers. That way, everybody wins.’ ” There is never (or rarely) a presumption that the customer gives much thought to employees, but they do want the employees to deliver rational and emotional value in their experiences with the vendor’s products and services.

  17. Micahel, appreciate the further relevant link from your great website and also for the additional comments.
    Not sure I totally adhere to the idea of employee “ambassadorship” which suggests something serious and reflected. At the end of the day don’t we just all share our opinions with each other, what we like – or dislike – and why?

  18. Andrew, my comment was serious, but as I wrote it I thought about all the incidents of employee sabotage, whether intentional or accidental. The few infamous old examples I mentioned are witness to this.
    Love the idea of the test you mentioned and agree we never do what we say and say what we will do and definitely not the why. Unfortunately from personal experience I know of several examples where companies treat their employees abysmally, silence those who speak out and then make glowing statements to the press about how they care about their employees. It’s only if you’ve “been on the inside” or close memebrs of families and friends that you really know the full story.
    Thanks for adding more depth to the topic.

  19. Thanks Bob and yes the title and article were purposefully provocative! I need to get some conversations started here to learn from this fabulous group of experts you’ve managed to gather!

    As a customer champion, I keep getting asked to comment on the position of some very verbose influencers spouting employee centricity. The discussion here and your comments all add to our knowledge and thoughtfulness on a topic which is definitely not black and white.

  20. Much as I like Dale Carnegie, I find his quote very simplistic, especially in light of the other issues Denyse has raised. I think customers do care about employees, but as Bob points out, it seems improbable that treating employees well would become the reason a customer prefers doing business with a company. I suspect that the company would also have to be good or excellent at delivering other things that businesses need to deliver to customer to keep customers coming back.

    My other observation is that it’s impossible to separate ‘treating employees well’ and ‘corporate social responsibility.’ In a not-hypothetical example, if a business allows hourly employees time off to attend parent-teacher meetings at a local school without financial penalty, is that ‘treating employees well’, or CSR? I don’t have the answer. But it is the reason I drive 16 miles to have my car serviced at a dealership that does allow this, instead of the dealer 4 miles away that doesn’t.

  21. Ambassadorship is a concept of employee experience and behavior which, when compared to engagement (which is principally about alignment and productivity) drives stronger commitment to customers. We’ve been researching the profound, actionable differences between employee engagement and employee ambassadorship for some time; and my colleague Colin Shaw summarized our thinking a few years ago:

    My new book, Employee Ambassadorship: Optimizing Customer-Centric Behavior From The Inside-Out And Outside-In will shortly be published. The book will present the case for this concept, and detail some of our groundbreaking research findings for clients.

  22. Some customers purchase primarily because of ‘service,’ some due to ‘product,’ some for ‘price.’ That’s why we’ve Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair, and we’ve Ritz Carlton’s “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” and Sukiyabashi Jiro’s “Make customers suffer the most to enjoy the best sushi in the world.”

    One of the core reasons affecting the importance of customer engagement (or employee experience or ambassadorship) is the brand values of a company. The level of employee engagement of Virgin Atlantic and Ritz Carlton who have ‘service’ as their brand value, should be quite different from Ryanair and Sukiyabashi Jiro who competing on the cheapest airfares (price) and the best sushi (product). Agree?

    The issue that the entire CX industry is now facing: the prescription to any CX challenges is always the same – employee engagement, service improvement and culture transformation. This prescription is not only not an antidote, it could be a poison to those companies whose brand values are unrelated to ‘service.’ This lays the perfect path for me to write my next article: “Why a Wise CEO would Never Buy-in CX?”

    Thank you, Denyse, for your thought-provoking post!

  23. Andrew, I agree Dale was a little simplistic in his comment, but isn’t that the art of all great thinkers, to stimulate reaction?
    You certainly stimulated mine with your example! It made me think too of some of my behaviours with local retailers which are based on personal more than purely business reasons.
    Thanks for continuing the discussion.

  24. Thanks Michael for the added commentary.
    I understand ambassadorship and while I can agree that it is more powerful than engagement, I believe it is also much rarer.
    What has your and Colin’s research found on this?
    Looking forward to reading your book with enthusiasm.

  25. Thanks in return Sampson for your widening of the topic into corporate values and culture.
    I absolutely agree that different organisations are built around different offers and we have come to expect little or no service when the price is very cheap.
    However, I am wondering if this model can continue to profit in a world where consumers make their voices heard when they are disappointed. Even if they have paid less money, they still expect to get value. At least that’s what I believe; what do you think?

  26. Denyse,

    Thank you for your reply.

    Of course, there is always a minimum level of service and employee engagement required to all companies. For those companies with ‘service’ as their brand value, minimum is minimal; for the remains, minimum could be optimal.

    Wise CEOs could have different attributes, characters and management styles. But they’ve one thing in common: They put their company’s limited resources to best use.

    They allow Good Pains (by allowing those pains, which do not reflect their brand values, a substantial amount of resources could be saved to further enhance their pleasure peaks) to generate an unprecedented level of Branded Pleasures (pleasures which reflect their brand values) to beat competitors and eliminate imitators.

    They never create Unnecessary Pleasures (pleasures with nothing to do with their brand promises; it’s charity) and have zero-tolerance for Unnecessary Pains (making customers suffer for nothing – without saving significant amount of resources for pleasure).

    Ingvar Kamprad is a wise CEO. IKEA makes customers suffer with DIY services to generate unmatched pleasure on good value for the money.

    Michael O’Leary is a wise CEO. Ryanair makes customers suffer with their lean-and-mean services and policies to offer knockout pleasure with cheap airfares.

    Sukiyabashi Jiro is a wise CEO. Jiro’s sushi restaurant makes customers suffer on most aspects of the dining experience to render the utmost pleasure with the best sushi in the world.

    This model can continue to profit in a world where consumers make their voices heard when they are disappointed. No matter they’ve paid less, or even more, money.

    IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer, owns and operates 359 stores in 44 countries. Their founder is now one of the ten richest people in the world and the owner of a more than 40 billion dollar fortune.

    Ryanair has been of the most profitable airlines for years. In 2016, Ryanair was both the largest European airline by scheduled passengers carried, and the busiest international airline by passenger numbers.

    Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi restaurant located in Ginza, Tokyo, has earned three Michelin stars for years. The place is so famous that U.S. President Barack Obama asked to dine there during his visit to Japan in 2014.

    I guess that you may be interested in my new article: “Stop Trying to Eliminate Customers’ Effort” which will be released within this week. Do let me know your comments.

    I’m so happy to reply to your question. Thank you, Denyse.

  27. Interesting perspective on the wise CEO Sam, I like it. Never thought of inflicting pain on customers, but they way you balance it with the pleasure of lower prices makes sense.
    Great examples too of CEOs we all (should) admire for the way they steer their ships. However I’m not sure they think about inflicting pain as much as finding the most “acceptable” reductions to be able to offer lower prices.
    Anyway thanks for your thoughtful comments and also for the link to your own post; I’ll certainly check it out.
    Finally a big thanks for keeping the discussion going.

  28. I enjoyed very much our conversations.

    FYI, the prices of Jiro’s sushi restaurant are steep; each customer pays more than 30,000 yen. If you’re interested, take a look at “Sukiyabashi Jiro: Make the World’s Best Sushi by Creative Aggravation” at

    Definitely will send you the link of my coming article “Stop Trying to Eliminate Customers’ Effort” once it comes out.

    Thank you, Denyse.


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