Strategy & Leadership

Who Comes First — Clients or Employees?

We’ve all heard the saying, “The customer is always right.” Sure, without your clients, you have no business — but without employees, you have no one to serve your paying customers. Without them you don’t have a business, either. So, who comes first, especially in a dispute? Your clients or your employees?

A lot of businesses put clients first. I’m going to flip that on its head and tell you flat out: employees come first.

Contrary to popular belief, this won’t be a disaster for your clients? In fact, it’s a bonus for them.

If you put your employees first, it means you respect them, their skills and their time. If you do that, they will take care of your customers every time they’re out in the field. They feel like you care about them and that translates into better service. If you give employees the tools and support they need, they will give customers the tools and support they need.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself these questions and think about the realistic scenarios they represent. They can help maintain perspective as it pertains to the job employees perform in the field and when dealing with customers.

When should you override an employee to make a customer happy?

The only time you should really have to do this is if an employee performs work outside of company guidelines. Otherwise, the employee would have done what the customer wanted in the first place. Why make your employee look like a fool and feel like he or she has no power when you override her decision if their just following protocol? If there are conditions in which you’ll make an exception, tell the employee and let her make the decision. It keeps both the employee and the customer happy.

Why do you give in to a screaming customer?

You have a customer that everyone hates working with. The person is obnoxious, doesn’t pay on time, and takes three times as much work to keep happy. You put up with him or her because you don’t want to lose a client. Sure, but you’re losing employees because of this customer. How much does turnover cost you? Most estimates put it at about six months’ salary. Reevaluate if this customer brings that much actual value to your company? Is it enough to cover the expense of employee turnover?

Who will give better customer service: happy employees or bitter employees?

When you put your employees first, whether it be through good management, perks, or great pay, (preferably all three), your employees come to work happy to be working this job. They will naturally give better customer service.

Does this mean you can’t fire bad employees?

Just as there are some less-than-great customers, there are also sub-par employees. Bad employees should be disciplined and fired if they don’t change. But bad customers should be fired if they don’t change either. It’s hard to fire a customer but sometimes it makes your whole business better off.

  • grannybunny

    This has always been the philosophy of Southwest Airlines, and it works.

  • maria rose randazzo

    Nice to see a viewpoint from the employee side because customers are not always right, especially when they try every angle they can to get more out of you for less cost to them. I have personally dealt with customers like described in article and it takes great willpower to not call them the lying cheats they are and smile and be pleasant while dealing with their latest tirade. Any company that caters to this clientele is desperate for business and has no concern for their employees period.

  • William Ketel

    Just like I used to repeatedly explain to a manager: “NO, the customer is NOT always right, BUT they are the ones with the money.” So with that understanding we were usually able to take care of our customers. Where my pain came from in most cases were not unreasonable customers but rather unthinking people on our end who made wrong decisions. My pain was then having to be the one to correct the faults that others created because they made incorrect choices due to failing to understand the requirements. Probably firing the goof-ups would not be as useful as forcing them to demonstrate the validity of their decisions.

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