One of the first companies I ever worked for was all about Customer Service. The management philosophy was that customers were the first priority, often at the expense of the employee’s well-being. The ironic result was that this type of culture created unhappy employees who were not in the right state of mind to deliver great customer service. And there was a retention problem as well. It was a classic case of treating the surface issue rather than addressing the root cause.
In an earlier post on Servant Leadership, we posted a video of Colleen Barrett of Southwest Airlines who said, “We do build our pyramid a bit different… at the top of our pyramid in terms of priority is our employees, and delivering to them proactive customer service. If we do a good enough job of that, they in turn spend their time trying to assure the second most important group on our pyramid – our passengers – feels good about the service they are getting. And if those people feel good enough about it, then they come back for more. And if the passengers come back often enough, that means our third group of customers, in terms of importance, the shareholders are satisfied.”
The lesson for me has been that the principles of good customer service have widespread applications in business, management, and leadership. Even if you do not work directly with your company’s customers, in your role you have “customers” of your own. They may be shareholders, they may be your supervisors, or—most commonly for managers and executives—they may be your employees.
From a Knowledge@Wharton article, “Companies with exemplary customer service… tend to have extensive employee training and talent management programs. They also tend to treat workers well by giving them incentives, robust career development paths and other benefits. [Companies can enhance customer service by] adopting human resource policies to make sure employees are satisfied in their jobs and convey that satisfaction to customers. The goal for companies, according to Jill Donnelly, vice president of Customer Service Experts, an Annapolis, Md.-based consultancy, is to ‘create a great employee experience so those employees can deliver a great customer experience.’ ”
The way you treat one person sets a precedent of sorts for how they will treat others around them. Whether your goal is to improve customer service or not, treating your employees as you would your customers is one way to broaden your impact on an organizational level.