Should Customers or Employees Come First? Yes!


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Is it customers first? Or is it employees first?

You could spend days debating this one and still not come up with an answer that everyone could live with.

My question is: Do you have to choose?

Does it have to be one OR the other? Can you have both? Should you have both?

Is time a relevant dimension? For example are customers first in some instances and employees first in others?

Or have we simply gotten too granular, splitting out employees and customers when we should be talking about putting people first (ahead of technology, products, processes, etc.)?

At TELUS we have updated our number one priority (putting our customers first) to include employees:

“We will put our customers and fellow team members first by simplifying and digitizing our processes, reducing customers’ effort in their interactions with us and giving where we live to improve social outcomes in our communities.”

Our number one priority has shifted in its wording, but people are still at the top of the priority list. Not technology or products or processes – people.

As a CX practitioner, you no doubt have your customers front and centre, but what about your stakeholders and your team? What are you doing to make delivering an exceptional experience to your customers something that also breathes life and energy into your organization?

Culture is sometimes described as what people do when no one is looking. If you make taking a customer-centric approach something that lifts people up, helps them achieve what they want to achieve faster, better and more easily, they will do it whether anyone is watching or not.

Here are 3 ways to put your people first:

1. Start with their needs – “WIIFM” rules

Start each meeting, each phone call etc. with their needs – not your latest CX stats, not a summary of customer needs. What are their priorities? What are their challenges? Where could they use more help?

And then show them – specifically – how working with you, and taking a customer-centric approach will help them achieve their goals more effectively, faster and more easily than without you. Maybe it’s identifying the opportunity that will have the most significant impact, or it might be reducing the amount of trial and error to find the optimal level of service. Whatever it is, make it clear, and make it about them.

Putting together a presentation or slide deck for your stakeholders? For each slide ask yourself – does it answer “what’s in it for me”? If not, reconsider it.

Does a team use acronyms or unique language in their work? Show your investment in their success. Speak their language. Tailor your work to their environment.

2. Build the emotional business case

You have no doubt business-cased a bundle of CX initiatives – how much money will we invest? What will the return be? By when? But have you built the emotional business case?

As much, or in some cases, more than “hitting the numbers”, everyone has a need to feel capable and smart, to be recognized as someone who can be counted on for knowledge, expertise, getting results, and getting things done. And anyone faced with making tough decisions is interested in how they can reduce the risk (and heartburn!) associated with those decisions.

So build the emotional business case.

Instead of just showing what something will do for customers and which KPIs will be met, show your stakeholders how working with you and taking a customer-centric approach will make them feel. For example:

  • Confident. Instead of frustrating guesswork and countless rounds of trial and error amongst a sea of potential options, they will have the data and insight they need to know what will move the needle and what won’t – what the real drivers of the experience are. They will start moving in the right direction with the right solutions sooner. Less rework, better results, and all in less time.
  • In the know. Instead of wondering why their efforts aren’t always generating the results they expect, they will create meaningful products, services and processes that hit the mark because they will know not just what customers want, but why. They will apply their deep expertise to the right problem or opportunity. They’ll have the inside scoop. Not just data, insight.
  • Important. Instead of doing all of the heavy lifting by themselves, they will have a partner who is keenly invested in them achieving their goals and priorities. Someone who will clearly map out their connection to the customer and show others how they help drive the business forward, ultimately securing them a seat at the CX table.

I have put together a lot of business cases over the years using a variety of outcome measures: revenue retention, churn reduction, resource optimization, upselling, cross-selling, cycle time reduction, L2R percentage increase, increasing share of wallet or market share, etc. The ones that have been the most effective, the ones I have leaned on the most are the emotional ones.

In CX you are more often than not asking people to go on a bit of a journey, to try new things, to leave the familiar behind. And you want them to do it again and again. Make them feel confident, safe, and important. They’ll be more likely to join you.

3. Commit to a three-legged marathon

Customer experience management is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to be in it for the long haul, and you have to do it in partnership with countless stakeholders.

Consider yourself partners in a three-legged race – you don’t want to fall over in a heap! Aligning your pace with them is critical.

I’m guessing that having stakeholders who want to do more, and sooner, isn’t typically your problem. You’re happy to run at top speed! But what if some of your stakeholders are slowing down? Pushing back? Maybe losing some steam? As frustrating as it may be, don’t push them.

Slow down. Don’t jump in with why they need to get going. Don’t remind them of all the things customers are urgently expecting. Turn your attention to their needs. Make it about them.

A good way to do all that?

Ask some good questions and listen. For example:

  • What’s going on? What’s on your mind? (I’m interested in you!)
  • What’s feeling challenging at the moment? (You can tell me the hard stuff!)
  • What do you think the real challenge is here? (I value your expertise and perspective!)
  • How can I help? (I want you to be successful! I’m in!)

(These questions are some favourites from the coaching work we are doing with our partner Box of Crayons.)

You may be surprised how taking the time to slow down, to ask some questions and really listen can get people back in the race and running faster than before. Feeling that you matter is a great energizer!

So we know you’re an expert at putting your customers first, now if you haven’t already, try your hand at showing those other people some love – your internal stakeholders, the people within your organization.

Look for ways to make their lives easier. Show them how to use a customer-centric approach to achieve what they want to achieve faster, better and more easily. Then they’ll do it whether anyone is watching or not. In other words, you’ll start to build a CX culture, not just a program.

Krista Sheridan
Krista Sheridan is a Customer Experience veteran with a passion for helping people better understand how they are connected to the customer, the value of the work they do each day, and how to drive actions that engage customers and deliver strong business results. Krista's current focus at TELUS is Leadership Development for a Customer First Culture.


  1. Excellent!! I love them all but especially the first. It isn’t too hard to focus on the people part of our job and once the barriers are down, bring in the business benefits. Thank you for this…will hold on for all future organizational builds.

  2. Hi Kyle! I am so glad you like the article! If you have any other ideas to add I’d love to hear them. The focus on your people is so important! Many Thanks! Krista

  3. Hello Krista,

    Great perspective presented, especially using the three legged marathon analogy. We get so much involved building our brand value that we almost neglect to pay attention to the challenges faced by our individual stakeholders at various levels. As you suggest, “Making it about them” is definitely a key to build a progressive environment.


  4. Thanks Inksplore! Yes – it is so easy to get caught up in our own timelines and forget that not everyone is running/can run at the same speed!

  5. I’m happy that I’m seeing more people talk and write about the “WIIFM” or “the needs come first” approach. This creates a buzz around it and helps direct the companies towards putting it into actual practice. Employees are a company’s base and it’s not long ago that it was just the opposite. I’ve seen great changes in employees’ performance that were not dictated by the regular motivational factors, but rather by something else: purpose. Once an employee started feeling purpose in what they were doing, understanding how their work aligned with the company’s objectives and what influence their further contributions would make on the company’s success, the employee’s engagement rose to the level where it had a notable positive impact on their performance. Well said by Gary Beckstrand: “Instead of driving performance through fear or pressure, the best motivator for true engagement is helping employees identify and connect with a company’s purpose ” (reference Thank you, Krista, for such a great article!

  6. Hello Anastasiya! As I read your comments I kept thinking: YES!!!!! I could not agree more! At TELUS a clear connection to our purpose is central to all we do. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience and for the link to the article by Gary Beckstrand – a great read for anyone. Love it!


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