Does “Employees More First” Disparage Customers?


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What does “employees more first” really mean?

A while back, I wrote a post called Putting Employees More First. It’s based on the well-publicized quote from Hal Rosenbluth, where he states, “… if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.”

I agree with this thinking. Does putting employees more first disparage the customer? I think not. Neither do these folks.

Hal’s not the only one to advocate this approach. In this video, an interview with Sir Richard Branson, Branson advocates the same: “Put your staff first, customers second, and shareholders third… then, in the end, the shareholders do well, customers do better, and your staff are happy.”

Anne M. Mulcahy, former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation said:  “Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”

Tony Fernandes of AirAsia was quoted as saying: “Employees come number one. Customers come number two. If you have a happy workforce, they’ll look after your customers anyway.”

Herb Kelleher, Founder of Southwest Airlines, said, “If the employees come first, then they’re happy. A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It’s not one of the enduring green mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works.”

Dr. Noelle Nelson wrote a book called Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy. Her viewpoint: “When employees feel that the company takes their interest to heart, then the employees will take company interests to heart.

“Whether you are big or small, you cannot give good customer service if your employees don’t feel good about coming to work.” -Martin Oliver, MD Kwik-Fit Financial Services

Fred Reichheld mentioned in a 2006 Ad Age interview, “I have yet to find a company that has earned high levels of customer loyalty without first earning high levels of employee loyalty.”

Howard Schultz, Chairman of Starbucks, said: “We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers. Because we believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers was to hire and train great people. We invested in employees.”

Danny Meyer told the New York Times: “When you really take a perspective that the customer comes second, which is counter-intuitive in a society that always puts the customer first, you also end up attracting stronger employees over time, which increases the odds that your technical and your emotional and hospitality performance are going to be competitive.”
OK, you get my point. Employees are critical to the customer experience. So what does “employee more first” mean? Can I just give them t-shirts, free food, free childcare, and Friday happy hours? Is that enough?

The answer is a resounding “NO!” Those are great perks. Perks do not an employee experience make!

What about a great salary? If I pay them well, does that mean I’ve put employees first? 

Once again, “No.” A competitive salary, at a minimum, should really be the norm, so let’s take that off the table.

What, then, must companies do in order to put employees (more) first? Here’s my prescriptive list. 

They must…

  • Trust and empower them
  • Show appreciation
  • Give praise and recognition where due
  • Provide clarity – of purpose and more
  • Make sure they know what is expected of them
  • Communicate clearly
  • Be transparent, candid, and honest in communications
  • Lead with integrity
  • Define what a great customer experience means/looks like, and:
    • Let employees know how their contributions matter
    • Ensure they have a clear line of sight to the target, a great customer experience
  •  Do right by your employees
  • Build the right culture
  • Hire the right people to begin with

These are all lofty prescriptions, right? Just know that perks are not a bad thing; they are just that, perks. They are not the thing that shows employees that you have their best interests at heart. Think loftier. Show you really care, that they really matter!

Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management. -Howard Schultz

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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