Customer Before Employee, Employee Over Customer

Customer Before Employee, Employee Over Customer

I’ve been working on some of the early chapters for my frontline customer service book this month, and one of the topics I’ve been focused on is the importance of a good customer service mindset. Crucial to this mindset is the fundamental belief that we are there to serve our customers.

At its most basic level, the customer-employee relationship is simple: the customer comes before the employee. Why? Because customer-facing professionals only exist to serve the customer. It is their raison d’être. It is why they are there.

Customer Before Employee, Employee Over CustomerThe concept seems fundamental; yet, I’ve heard a few different versions of the following idea lately: Put your employees first, ahead of customers, and they will be happier and have more job satisfaction. This happiness will somehow inspire them to value customers and deliver great customer experiences.

Maybe it works this way, but I’ve never seen it.

An employee-centric culture should be but a subset of a larger customer-centric culture. If the customer is not your first priority, how can you ever expect the customer to be your team’s first priority? It seems like any organization that does not have the customer as its primary focus has put the cart way ahead of the horse.

Employees Over Customers

Should you ever put your employees ahead of your customers? Absolutely!

In fact, I overdo the emphasis to highlight the point that when it is time to put an employee ahead of a customer, it is an occasion that should not be missed. These moments are often high impact, both to the employee and the customer, and they must be handled well.

When should you support your employee over your customer? Here are a few examples:

  • When the customer has crossed the line into abusive behavior.
  • When the employee is right and being right or wrong has significance.
  • When the customer is simply unreasonable and continues to be overly difficult to work with.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and there are any number of other situations where you should support an employee over a customer. For instance, when an employee has a family emergency and you support their absence (despite the fact that it will negatively impact customers), you are choosing the employee over your customers. As you should.

However, these situations should be viewed for what they are — exceptions to the most basic of rules:

We exist to serve our customers.

It is not that I disagree with those who advocate placing employees first; it’s that they often advocate such a position seemingly devoid of the larger context. In all the cavalier talk of “firing” customers that goes around these days, the fundamentals of respecting and valuing customers seems to get lost. The reality is that…

  • Customers can be quirky.
  • Customers can be irrational.
  • Customers can be difficult.

And it is our job to do our best to make them happy regardless.

Never let your employees forget that in the day-to-day the customer comes first. But also never let them forget that when push comes to shove, you have their back.

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By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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