What signals are you sending?

Which should come first? Employees or customers? Its a conversation I’ve found myself in on a number of occasions recently.  For those looking at the customer service world from the customer’s point of view, the answer might seem obvious.  Its us!  The customers.  Then why do perennial customer experience stars seem to reap more than their share of customer accolades and loyalty by doing the opposite?

Take a look at Fortune’s list of Best Places to Work.  For those that follow customer satisfaction surveys, many names on this list should look familiar: Norstrom, Marriott, Starbucks, Zappos.  And right at the top of the list is Wegmans, who’s motto is “employees first. customers second”.  And, doesn’t it just make sense? After all, who interacts with your customers? Who answers the phone? Who ships your products? Who sends invoices?  Your employees.

So, when I saw this sign next to the front door of a business the other day, it made me wonder.  What kind of signs do we give our employees about their value to our business?   What kind of signal does this send to our customers who walk through that main entrance?

The economy implodes, we as executives fear for our jobs.  The first thing we do is purge the payroll.  Sure, there are often valid reasons for such action that are tied to simple economic theory 101.  But, often this is simply the path of least resistance to self preservation.  It’s the easiest thing to do.

AIG nearly goes under.  Thousands lose their jobs.  Yet executives rewarded their failures with huge bonuses.

Visitors and executives get the prime parking spots near the front door.  Employees park out back. 

A project fails and the project manager gets sacked.  How about a promotion for failing early and learning from it to make the next project a success?

The examples are endless.  But the message is the same.  We more often than not value stuff over people.  Our plant and equipment over our people.

But, put yourself in your customers shoes.  What door do you want to walk through in those shoes?  The one above.  Or this one.



  1. Hi Barry,

    I strongly believe that the employee experience directly impacts the customer experience. If a business takes good care of their employees, their employees will take even better care of their customers. The businesses you listed above focus on their core values, training, empowering, coaching, recognition, involvement and unwavering accountability. They do not allow anything to distract them from these functions.

    When businesses don't treat their employees well (Wal-Mart comes to mind) then their employees won't treat us, the customer well.

    Thanks for sharing your insights on this very hot topic!

  2. Hi Barry,

    I would say: "Employees first. Customers second. But always let your Customers think they come first." That, to me, is one of the basic ingredients for sustainable business and excellent customer service.

    Interesting post, Barry, and an equally interesting comment, Kelly!



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