Customer first? I say employees first

The slogans resonate on posters in corporate break rooms across industries. “Customer First”; “The Customer is King”; “Customer is always right”. While noble in intent, I think there’s a fundimental flaw here; both in the messaging and in how this is translated in execution.

Think about who is responsible for delighting your customers? It’s the people in your organization. So, when employees continually hear “our customers come first”, what that translates to for the employee is that they, your most valuable asset, are somewhere down the line in importance. Maybe #2, but most likely even lower on the list. In practice, this creates the opposite effect as it has a demoralizing impact on the front-line workers that interact with customers every day.

It’s my experience that the most innovative, customer-centric organizations (Zappos, Ritz Carlton, Google, Apple, Southwest Airlines) whether that innovation is product, service or organizationally driven, understand that nurturing employees, the area where leadership has the most interpersonal influence, translates directly into superior customer experiences.

Think about that job you had where you couldn’t wait to get up and go to work because you loved what you did. You loved who you worked for. How can that feeling not naturally translate into your approach to that next customer interaction?


  1. You are absolutely right about how important employees are to delivering superior customer experiences! But part of me thinks this is putting tactics before strategy. Delivering amazing customer experience is the strategic goal, and a winning approach you point out is hiring, nurturing and retaining excellent, enthusiastic employees to deliver that experience. But no company is in business to delight their employees, that has to be a means to an end.

    But you have some really great points here that need to be repeated! In case you haven't seen it, here's a great presentation of the Netflix culture on slideshare that I think gets this right:

  2. Wonderful points. It is absolutely no coincidence that the companies who are known for delivering the highest levels of service are the same as the companies who are repeatedly recognized as being the best to work for. As we treat our employees, that's how our employees will treat our customers. "Our actions speak so loud, that our employees can't even hear what we say". Positive reinforcement is the management style of superior customer service. Great job.

  3. I love that quote James "Positive reinforcement is the management style of superior customer service" Brilliant!

  4. Scott – checked out the Slideshare. Thanks for the info! Netflix a model disrupter on many levels, including customer service culture. Thanks again

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