The Branson guide to customer service: putting your employees first


Share on LinkedIn

There’s nothing more off-putting than walking into one of your favourite shops only to discover that particular branch is staffed by a miserable bunch of people who look like they’d rather be anywhere else.

In fact, realising that you’re only going to get bad service somewhere is likely to have you turning tail without spending a penny.

On the other hand, there’s no better salesperson than one who absolutely loves their job and is more than willing to sing its praises.

Or that’s Richard Branson’s thinking, anyway.

The secret to great customer service

In a complete reversal of the hierarchy we’ve been taught, where customers come before everyone else, Branson has built Virgin by putting his employees first.

His reasoning is pretty simple – treat employees badly and they, in turn, will treat customers badly, ruining their brand experience and potentially putting them off your business for life.

In an interview with Inc., he was very clear about the benefits of such an approach:

“My philosophy has always been, if you can put staff first, your customer second and shareholders third, effectively, in the end, the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and you yourself are happy.”

But knowing how to keep your staff happy isn’t always easy.

To help you transform your company and give your customer service a boost, we’re sharing three simple and effective employee engagement strategies.

#1: pay them properly and on time

Let’s be honest, your employees work for money and not out of love – fail to pay them the correct amount at the right time, and you’ll soon have an uprising on your hands.

But it’s not just your staff who’ll be leading the revolt. The latest scandal around Debenhams sloppy attitude towards wages is proof of how quickly the public (i.e. your customers) will also turn on you.

To avoid that nightmare situation, we recommend investing in the latest software designed to keep your payroll on track. SD Worx offers a complete range of products, including pension software that’ll help you honour your legal obligation to provide a workplace pension for all staff.

#2: be generous with breaks

We all know that working in customer service during busy spells is hard, which means that even manic weekends queued out the door are no excuse for not allowing staff the breaks they deserve.

Although legally you only have to give employees one 20-minute break if they’ve worked over six hours, you don’t have to stick to the minimum guidelines.

Regular rests throughout the day will keep your team feeling refreshed and ready to deal with demanding customers. Be as generous as you can with breaks and make sure you’ve got enough staff to cover them.

#3: back them up

The simplest but most effective thing you can do to keep your employees happy is to always back them up, especially in front of customers.

Whether they’re offering up a deal or handling a complaint, don’t undermine them. It’ll only make them look bad and feel undervalued.

You can make this a part of your corporate culture by regularly asking for feedback. As the people on the front line, they’ll have the biggest understanding of what is or isn’t working with your current customer service model, so listen and act on their opinions.

Do you have any other tops tips for improving employee engagement? Leave a comment and let us know.

Endri Hasanaj
Financial Economy Blog
Endri is interested in digital marketing, particularly in CRM via brand acquisition. Being a trilingual helps him doing researches around Multicultural Marketing.


  1. The three engagement strategies offered feel fairly basic and fairly superficial, though they are fine as far as they go. However, they also illustrate why engagement has become a building block to reach employee ambassadorship, commitment to the enterprise, to fellow employees, to the product/service value proposition, and to the customers. This is where ‘people first’ airline companies like Southwest and Virgin really shine: The points listed in my post are really actionable employee-related strategies for enhancing experience and ambassadorship.

  2. Three steps that seem so basic yet yield such profound results in the Customer Service business. The saying that ‘customer is king’ holds true to a certain degree, however taking care of your employees ensures Brand representation at the highest level and commitment from employees. That’s the first step to exceptional customer service.

  3. I agree with Branson. Nothing is more disheartening to an employee than to feel like your employer doesn’t care and isn’t fair. After 30 years of working as an employee, my best Jobs and favorite jobs were with employers that cared, tough or not.

  4. Many years ago I was taught that employees themselves should be viewed as customers. This concept needs to go beyond employees that have direct contact with customers. Employees with indirect roles can equally slow down and impact the customer experience.

    Staff who work in warehouse or distribution center environment should have the same level of support as those in direct roles. It is amazing the ideas that come from the employees on the line. They should be recognized for their dedication and commitment to excellence

  5. I fully agree and not only this, this is my way of management and with the proof of reality, I have to say that it works liked that.
    try and let´s make the change reality. Our teams first.

  6. I’ve written elsewhere (Determinants of EE not under the control of companies – that companies can cause DROPS in employee engagement, but rarely are they in control of the determinants of EE.

    Companies that have serious engagement problems can improve but only up to the average point, or close to it.

    I think the data reflects this in most cases, and it explains why EE scores (for the little they are worth) remain stagnant or drop.

  7. We are all customers in life! In turn working for a company we are a customer of the business too. Reflectively if we are treated well, in turn we can reciprocate this with our customers very effectively.
    I always feel it is good to take yourself out of your own shoes and put on the shoes of the customer. By doing this we can see how we would like to be treated. How many times do we receive good/excellent customer service and how many times do we receive poor/bad customer service? Unfortunately most of the time I think we receive poor or adequate customer service. What we can learn from this as an observation is how not to offer customer service ourselves to others.

  8. Love this article. Customer service comes first, no matter how I am treated, but that’s just me.
    Point 4 should read: Not insulting or reprimanding your staff in a meeting in front of other staff members.
    Treat all staff with respect and believe in their ability to do the job. Allow them to communicate without fear of being “shot down” without an explanation. Give clear instructions when delegating tasks and assist / lead when required. Do not threaten staff with dismissal if they are struggling. Try to understand what the problem is and assist with a resolution. Staff need to know that they have the support of snr management, not fear them. Be visible and present. Listen.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here