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Does your company put employees first? or customer first?
I suppose that there’s one more possibility – neither.
Sadly, that’s the case for a lot of companies.
But that’s not the topic of this post. This post is all about where employees fall in order of importance in your company.
Recently, I was reading an article in Industry Week and came across this paragraph.
The Ohio Manufacturing Institute recognizes five major stakeholders in organizations. In order of importance they are: customers, owners, managers, employees, and community. Without products, and customers who buy them, there is no company. And without owners who invest capital, there is no future.
Oh, and never mind that if there are no employees to make those products, there won’t be a need for customers to buy something. Ouch!
So I thought I’d do a little digging to find some CEOs who disagree with this prioritization. You know where my head is on this: Quite simply: without employees, you have no customer experience.
Here’s what I found:
I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers, and that people flourish when they are praised. -Richard Branson, Virgin
Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients. -Richard Branson, Virgin
Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that. -Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines
Who comes first? Don’t be silly, says King Hal; it’s employees. That is – and this dear Watson, is elementary – if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first. -Tom Peters, referring to Hal Rosenbluth, CEO, Rosenbluth International
Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first. -Angela Ahrendts, Apple (previously with Burberry)
Take good care of your employees, and they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back. -J.W. Marriott
Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees. -Tony Hsieh, Zappos
Just about anyone can make a good product, but it’s the people that count. In the end, it’s the employees who will take it from a kitchen-table idea to the next level. There are a lot of important things in business, but the people portion comes first. -Hamdi Ulukaya, Chobani
Put your employees first, and they`ll take you places you`ve never dreamed of. -Josh Coffy, Flight Media
When Stephen Woolman Preston, grandson of C.E. Woolman, founder of Delta Airlines, was asked about an organization’s most important asset: Simple: its people. Mr. Woolman put people first. The Delta family was not a bumper sticker he came up with. It’s a culture – a culture of employee engagement that continues today.
To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace. -Doug Conant, Campbell’s Soup
Treat employees like they make a difference, and they will. -Jim Goodnight, SAS
Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management. -Howard Schultz, Starbucks Coffee
There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it. -Jack Welch, GE
All I am saying is by employees first you can actually deliver your promise of customers first. If you do not put the employee first – if the business of management and managers is not to put employees first – there is no way you can get the customer first. -Vineet Nayar, HCL Technologies
To make customers happy, we have to make sure our employees are happy first. -Mig Pascual, Zappos Insights
When you build a genuine relationship with your employees first, it naturally turns into authentic engagement with your customers. –The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center
Yup. All the great brands have great leaders who “get it.”
I found a few other great quotes from some well-respected authors and speakers who shared their thoughts on this topic, as well:
Always put people first, for without them, there is no organization. -David Sikhosana, Time Value of Money: Timing Income
Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first. -Simon Sinek
Your number one customers are your people. Look after employees first and then customers last. -Ian Hutchinson, People Glue
You can’t be the best place to buy, if you’re not the best place to work. -Fred Reichheld
I have yet to find a company that has earned high levels of customer loyalty without first earning high levels of employee loyalty. -Fred Reichheld
You don’t build a business. You build people, and people build the business. -Zig Ziglar
To close, I’ll share Naveet Nayar’s TEDx Aix Talk, during which he explains how he came about with the Employees First, Customers Second concept, which he wrote about in a book by the same name.
Where do your employees fall in order of importance?
Annette, I read the title of your post and thought… I know just the thing, I watched an amazing TedX talk the other day. And low and behold you have beaten me to it.
If anybody else is reading this comment watch the video. It hammers the point home marvellously.
Annette, such a great article! It blows me away how many companies do not put employees first. Right out of college, I started working for a company called ExactTarget. They were the epitome of putting employees first. I came to work every day excited to do great work to keep our customers happy because I believed in the mission and our leadership team invested in getting to know all employees. Within 2 months of starting, the CEO (of over 1,000 employees!) knew me by name and would ask genuine questions about my family. Because he invested in me, I wanted to invest my greatest work into the business. I then went to work for a company that did not put employees first where I realized pretty quickly how important that was to a happy work environment. I now work for Lessonly, which has a culture very similar to ExactTarget's where employees are put first. Our customers are happy because we are happy and that shows through our interactions with them. I hope more companies start adopting this mindset!
"We believe customer number one, employee number two, shareholder number three… Because you've take care of the customer, take care of the employees, shareholder will be taken care of."
Nice. Great minds think alike!
Thanks for sharing your experience. Always awesome to have examples to support this! I've seen it many times, too, and it is amazing what happens when companies prioritize the employees.
Thanks, John. As you might guess, I disagree with Jack. But that's OK.
My question is, who has taken care of the customer? Who's the "you've" he refers to? The employee, of course. And we've seen it time and time again that if employees aren't happy and engaged, the customer will know it and feel it, i.e., the customer isn't taken care of.
I did a quick search to see if I could find a net promoter score or some customer satisfaction data for Alibaba, but the numbers didn't seem very reliably sourced.
Great topic and so true. Happy employees will want to work harder for the company that treats them well. Leaders and entrepreneurs personally care about their companies. To ensure successful business leaders need to inspire the same level of care from the employees. Understanding that is essential.
Thanks, Natalya. Leaders must care about their employees in order for the employees to care about the customers and the business.