Treating Your Employees How You Treat Your Best Customers

Whatever your product, service or business model, you’re in business to sell something. That means you need someone to buy it.

That someone is, of course, the customer. And that’s why businesses are focused on making customers happy and finding ways to keep them on board for the long haul (think contracts with 3-year commitments, extended warranties for just “pennies a day,” and sophisticated loyalty programs).

Personally, I’ve sat in or led countless customer acquisition and retention strategy meetings with dozens of clients. And while clients and customer target groups differ, the themes have always been the same: doing whatever it takes to make sure that customers are effectively sought, maintained, retained, and above all else, happy. As the saying goes: the customer is always right! Delighting them isn’t optional. It’s mandatory. It’s survival.

Meanwhile, good ol’ HR departments are trying their best to emulate Google and inspire employees to be happier. The thinking goes: If employees aren’t happy, then customers won’t be happy, and if customers aren’t happy, then they aren’t customers anymore.

Now, most of the organizations I work with can’t inspire employees ‘Google style’ and make them happier through incentives like free oil changes, gourmet food, or free takeout for a month for new parents (which is a really cool idea, by the way).

But it occurs to me that there may be another perspective here – one that is both practical and particularly cost effective.

What if we try to make employees happy (which we WANT to do), in the same ways that we try and make customers happy (which we already ARE doing)? Unusual perhaps, but unusual ideas can lead to unusually good solutions. And after exploring some of the collected knowledge on customer service training — everything from best practices to so-called “Commandments” – it’s clear to me that this there is something valuable here.

For example, an article 10 Tips For Impeccable Customer Service presents 10 excellent “rules” for customer service. I’ll present those rules below in blue boxes. And then below them in plain text, I’ll discuss how each can be applied to the task of engaging and inspiring employees.

Rule #1

There are two ways to fix every problem. The immediate solution is to take care of the customer, leave him or her happy, and go on with your day. However, there’s a reason this problem happened. You need to consider how to prevent it from happening again. Your business will be more efficient and you’ll have happier customers overall.

What if we were committed to preventing employee problems – instead of just resolving them? Wouldn’t we have fewer problems if continuous improvement was applied to employee relations?

Rule #2

Treat your customers like human beings. That means treating them with dignity and not being annoyed at them for interrupting your day. This also means expecting them to act like responsible adults. Too many businesses believe that good customer service means bowing to the whims of every customer with a complaint. That solves the immediate problem of an angry customer, but sometimes it’s not for the best. Know when there’s a real problem that needs fixing and fix it well, but don’t let people walk all over you.

Treat your employees like people. Maintain dignity. Yes, have expectations and standards, and don’t bow to every whim. But treat your employees like people (because that’s what they are!)

Rule #3

Go beyond the minimum to make your customers love you. If there’s a real problem, and you can do just a little more to make a customer’s day, he or she is going to remember it. You’ll get a lot more repeat business and word of mouth advertising if you over deliver.

Employees stay at jobs for many reasons. Position your workplace as a choice, not a default. Go the extra mile. Can you imagine if all of your recruiting was handled by referrals? You’d not only significantly reduce costs, but you’d attract high quality, motivated talent.

Rule #4

Don’t make excuses. If it’s your fault, say so. Don’t try to blame it on the customer, the circumstances, another vendor, or the position of the moon in the sky. It’s amazing what a difference it can make if you just say “An error has been made, but I will make it right”. Your customer will see you a lot differently if you don’t make excuses.

Everyone makes mistakes. Admit yours. Don’t just treat employees like humans – be human! Sometimes, honestly and thoroughly admitting a mistake (or mistakes) and working with others to solve can generate loyalty and team building that lasts.

Rule #5

Don’t take it personally! This one’s easy to forget because the customer is directing their frustration at you. However, the customer is angry about the situation, not angry at you, specifically. Taking things personally just introduces anger into the situation and makes it harder to fix the problem.

Practice solution-led leadership. Most employees don’t ‘speak up’ for fear of alienating their boss and capsizing their careers. If you allow employees to really tell you when things aren’t working, things are already working a lot better.

Rule #6

Listen to your customers. Don’t assume you know what they want. They may have some good things to say, even if they’re not experts.

Listen. (Enough said.)

Rule #7

Think about what you’re promising. It’s easy to get carried away and offer more than you can easily deliver. If your business is racing from one project to the next, you can’t offer true quality of service. Don’t let this happen. Always pay close attention to what you’re promising, and don’t let a customer talk you into the impossible.

Don’t promise employees something, get too busy, and forget about following through on your commitments. Don’t let your employees fall between the cracks and convince yourself that you are focused on the business. Employees are the business.

Rule #8

Allow the customer to feel like a priority. Don’t answer the phone while filling out a spreadsheet – you’ll sound distracted. Spend the few minutes it takes to really pay attention. Your customers will know the difference and the results will be worth it.

An employee’s time is as valuable as yours — so don’t waste it. For that matter, an employee’s career is valuable too. Don’t waste that either.

Rule #9

Get to problems right away. No one wants to deal with something unpleasant, but if you let a complaint sit, it’s not going to get any better on its own.[/box]

Don’t let problems fester, because eventually employees may quit. Or worse, they may stay, stop caring, and infect everyone around them with apathy. Festering doesn’t always cause people to explode. Sometimes it just convinces them to surf the net for half the day…or longer.

Rule #10

Follow up! Call after a problem’s been dealt with, or after a customer has received a particularly big order, to find out how things went. Don’t try to sell anything during this call or email. Just find out what you need to know and wish your customer a good day.

It’s more than likely that you know exactly what your customers value and what you need to deliver on in order to keep them. Get to the same place with employees. Over time, checking in and follow up helps builds trust and employees will open up to you. And when employees open up to you, the guesswork is over. Initiatives will be the right ones because we are not borrowing from Google or anyone else. You can effectively retain your employees because in the right culture they will tell you exactly how to do it.

It would be difficult to find an organization that was not focused on the customer. Without customers, even the happiest of employees could not keep the doors open by themselves. So when it comes to employee engagement, it’s fine to look to the big ‘Employers of Choice’ that are doing neat and different things. But don’t become too focused on what is going on ‘out there’ and ignore the proven, practical and cost-effective customer service strategies available in your own backyard.

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