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Who Comes First, the Employee or the Customer?

I was visiting a client last week and we started talking about the recent trend in customer experience which suggests that customers should come first over everything else. Over profits and stakeholders, over processes and policies and over employees. Although this sort of thinking has the right intentions, I think it’s a little misguided and could do more harm than good in the long run. While giving you customers a great experience is a fundamental requirement of any business, if you neglect your employees how long will they continue to give this great experience? A great experience for the customers starts with a great experience for the employees.

By keeping the people who engage with your customers happy, they will in turn provide a better level of service to your customers. Customers getting a better service will repay you with loyalty and this helps with profits. But it has to start with the employee.

Advancements in technology over the last ten years have helped transform the world that a customer service or sales representative works in. From CTI putting the right information at their fingertips and cloud technology enabling them to work remotely to social platforms bringing together employees from different locations, it has never been easier to find that ever desirable balance between work and home life.

But what happens when customer and employee priorities clash? This is what became known as the pie van dilemma. Every day between 10am and 12pm a pie van would arrive outside the office. It played a nice tune to let everyone know it was there and then people would go out to buy their lunch. Back inside the office though it was noticed that service levels dropped every day at these times, as the phones were not manned.

So the question was surfaced, should we stop people from going to the pie van to provide a better service to the customers, even though this will upset the staff. Although there are merits for both saying "yes" and "no" to this question, I believe you need to look at what the core values of the business are. If a core value is trusting staff members and giving them personal responsibility for customer satisfaction, then this question answers itself. Happy and satisfied employees will find a way to both serve the customer and get their lunch, so rather than dictate what the business wants from them, challenge them to find the solution. I believe that given the chance, they will find a way to have their pie and eat it.
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