What comes first . . . happy employees or happy customers?


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The Quest for 1,001 Green Goldfish

I recently completed a large project. I had set out to find 1,001 purple goldfish. Examples of companies that strive to exceed customer expectations via a sticky concept called g.l.u.e (giving little unexpected extras). Signature extras that help you stand out in a sea of sameness.

amazon kindle bestseller

It resulted in What’s Your Purple Goldfish? 12 ways to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth. In honor of being green and Earth Day, I’m giving away free copies of the e-book on Amazon between 4/23-4/27. Get your gratis copy of WYPG? by clicking here. Please share with a friend or 3,000l

Now its time to climb the next mountain in my lagniappe trilogy. It involves answering the following question:

Who is more important . . . employees or customers?

This is a great chicken and egg debate with regard to leadership. Who comes first? I introduced this question over at Switch + Shift (a tremendous blog on leadership by Ted Coine and Shawn Murphy). What became clear during my research is that brands who understand the concept of lagniappe for customers, also embrace the concept with employees. Both are equally important. Taking care of employees and investing into the “little extras” for staff help build a dynamic culture. Here is a great quote by Vince Burks of Amica Insurance reinforcing this focus.

At Amica Insurance – the concept of lagniappe is not just a part of our brand ethos; it is ingrained in everything we do. It therefore extends to our most valued resource – our employees. In fact, that is the secret to our success.

Excellent benefits. Advancement opportunities. The latest technology. A real work/life balance. And an open and regular line of communication with each other and with senior management. Taken together, we give our employees all that they need to succeed … and more.

This is absolutely essential. Satisfied employees lead to satisfied customers. Long term employees lead to long term relationships with customers. And pride, trust, and morale are all contagious.

Further, well-trained, long-term employees know how to get the job done quickly, efficiently, and effectively. They know their customers. They know their colleagues. They know their company. And they therefore know how to “get to yes” with ease and a sense of grace.

This is good for the customer. This is good for the company.

This post will officially start my next quest here at marketinglagniappe.com.

green goldfish project

I’m going to actively crowd source 1,001 examples of green goldfish. Why green for employees? First and foremost, green is one of the three colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green and gold). New Orleans is the birthplace of lagniappe, the overarching concept for providing “little extras.” A word that Mark Twain once said “was worth traveling to New Orleans to get.” The second reason deals with money. It’s well documented that financial compensation is not a strong long term motivator. This Project will explore the “little things” that can make the big difference in establishing culture.

Similar to the Purple Goldfish, it is my belief that employee lagniappe provides the following three benefits:

  1. Differentiation – a way to stand out in a sea of sameness. Give the company a remark-able difference or set of signature differences.
  2. Retention – keep employees happy and they’ll stick around longer.
  3. Word of Mouth – create a culture that attracts talent. Become a desired place to work and you’ll get more A players.

How about helping me with an example or three? Here are a few thought starters to get you going:


Google“20 percent time program”. According to Jonathan Strickland in ‘HowStuffWorks: How the Googleplex Works’, the company allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week at Google to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program.


Zappos -“The Offer” The offer is part of the four week new hire paid training. The training immerses the group into the culture and Zappos’ laser focus on customer service. At the conclusion of training, everyone is offered $3,000 to leave. According to Fast Company Co-Founder Bill Taylor, “It’s a small practice with big implications: Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers–people do. If you want to create a memorable company, you have to fill your company with memorable people. How are you making sure that you’re filling your organization with the right people? And how much are you willing to pay to find out?” In case you’re keeping score at home, roughly 2-3% of trainees have taken the offer since it was rolled out.


Reebok “Thinking inside the Box” – Some organizations have a company gym. Other may subsidize or pay for gym fees. Reebok took this to the next level in 2010 by converting a brick warehouse at Reebok’s headquarters into an employee exclusive CrossFit “box” or workout center, with six coaches and extensive equipment [named CrossFit One]. About 425 employees at Reebok are taking part in Canton. This benefit reinforces the company’s new mission: to get consumers moving. Participants lost over 4,000 pounds collectively during 2011.

Please leave your example in the comments or e-mail me at stan [at] 9inchmarketing.com. Help me catch a 1,001 green goldfish.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is a short highlight video from my keynote at the UPIC Summit in Cincinnati:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


  1. I have almost no brand loyalty since brands are normally good at some things and bad at others, but I’ve had my insurance policies with Amica for over forty years. I started out with them because of their high ratings in Consumer Reports. The company is normally still first or second each year. I’ve been pleased with their service when I’ve needed it and have always had my questions answered promptly.

    I may be loyal because insurance is a different from buying a television or a computer. Insurance is a product for the future. Insurance needs to be there when you need it, sometimes for a very large claim in the case of a natural disaster or terrible auto accident. I have heard and read about cases where the customers have paid for insurance for years only to have the company find a way to avoid paying because of a technicality that the most intelligent consumer would have had difficulty understanding. The AARP publications give examples of this practice almost monthly. While I hope never to test Amica Insurance with such a big claim, I’m loyal enough to think that they’ll be there and won’t try to wriggle out of paying. Perhaps because they don’t have stockholders, they don’t have to worry about getting every last penny to add to the bottom line.

  2. Thanks Bob. Glad to see that you are a loyal customer of Amica.
    I learned one thing in law school as I pursued my JD/MBA . . . insurance companies are not in the business of paying claims. They are in the business of making money.
    I’d like to think that the way Amica treats its own employees speaks volumes about how they treat their customers. Nice to see that Consumer Reports validates that logic.
    ‘The longest and hardest nine inches in marketing … is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer’


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