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Customer or Employee, who should come First?

Indeed, for a company, it is a dilemma when it comes to choosing between the customer and employee. This is not unconnected to the fact that both are very important to the existence and survival of the company.

The customer, on the one hand, ensures the existence of a company. In fact, because they drive the revenue, they can either make or break a company. On the other hand, the employee is responsible for the delivery of the value-added services which ensures whether the customer returns or not. Hence, also very important for the smooth running of the business.

No doubt, the comparison between the customer and employee, based on who should actually come first is illogical. But, since the customers are those who pay money, and employees are those who cost money, who should then come first between them? Clearly, there is an answer to this, but then, it may be slightly different from what most thought it is.

Should Customers Come First?

Regardless of the size of a business – whether a sole proprietorship, corporation, non-profit, e-commerce, government entity, religious organization, etc. – there is a need to have a source of revenue to pay employees, bills, expansion, and other expenses for the day to day running of the business. Without a revenue source, a company will eventually collapse. Obviously, this is where the customer comes in.

Because, it is the customer who supports this –revenue. No doubt, for most businesses, in fact right from time immemorial, “customers indeed comes first.” Rightly so, it is apparent that happy customers are likely to award repeat business to companies who meet or exceed their needs. And this clearly translates to increase revenue for the company.

On this note, it may not be illogical to say that, “the customer is more important than the employee”, because without revenue no business can survive. Even if the services or products offered are fantastic and top-notch, without patronage, which translates to revenue, the company will have to eventually lay-off its employees and fold-up.

But then, what happens when a company puts the customers first, gives them everything they want, and even allows them to harass employees? It is obvious that the employees will exit the company and seek greener pastures elsewhere. Then, when employees leave the company, who will ensure customers’ experience for repeat patronage, especially when they are distinguished?

It has even been argued that, while companies can easily replace employees that leave, physically. Yet, because individuals have distinct skills-sets, knowledge, and experience, they cannot be exactly replaced. Again, it is also expensive to replace an employee leaving a company.

To even replace average employees, the true cost can be twice their base salaries depending on their wages, role, and experience. The cost can even be higher for high performers who often deliver 400 percent more in productivity than their average counterparts.

Employees Should Come First?






By Gustavo Fring on Pexel

Accordingly, it is apparent that employees are the first customer which any company could ever have. They are also the most important customers. Apparently, this is because they tend to provide critical insights into the customer experience. Beyond this, the employees are also the best brand ambassador any company could ever have.

Even more than marketing and advertisements. It is the employees that are actually in contact with the customers, so, if for instance, employees are motivated and engaged by the company, they tend to be happy, thereby treating customers well.

In fact, research has shown that engaged employees are more likely to improve customer services, and even increase sales by more than 20 percent. Clearly, when employees feel appreciated, valued, and happy, they tend to perform better and increase productivity. This also translates to happy customers and even happy shareholders.

Ultimately, since the attitude of employees is tied to their performance and the quality of their work, suffice to say that, how employees feel and are treated tend to be reciprocated to customers, and this experience will determine the decision whether a customer will return to the company or go to a competitor, even when the product is ok.

This is also in line with the assertion of Virgin’s Boss, Richard Branson, that: “Clients/customers do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients/customers.” As such, it is also valid if we say that “employees should come first.”

But then again, what happens when a company literally puts her employees first and they don’t add value to customers and the business? Clearly, the company will have happy employees right to the day the business folds up. Obviously, because the customers are not happy. Although this will largely depend on the management and the business culture.

Who Should Then come First?

Unequivocally, for a company, both the employee and customers have unique qualities that are important, in fact, critical, to its success or failure. As such, which do we then say is more important? Perhaps customers? Since they ensure the payment of employee salaries, bills, and the provision of key infrastructures.

Or [happy] employees? Because they invest their time, energy, talents, and the very best of themselves into their work so as to produce innovative ideas, services, and products that not only benefit the company’s growth and development, but also the customer.

However, given that, as illustrated above, both the engagement and happiness of employees as well as the happiness of customers is paramount to the survival and existence of a company. As such, it is therefore not important who actually comes first, between the customer and employee, provided both the employee and customer are both happy and the company is benefiting. In other words, what is important is a balanced business culture of employee engagement AND customer experience.

So, in order to obtain such a balanced business culture of the happy customer AND happy employee, regardless of who comes first, it is therefore imperative to identify the force which the happiness or misery or both the consumer and employee depends on.

The force is responsible for setting the tone, course, and culture of the business, towards the satisfaction or otherwise of both the customer and employee. The force which balances a business culture of happy employees and happy customers, towards the profitability of the company.

Leadership: Work Culture

Clearly, this force is none other than the most senior executive, the CEO, the President, the owner. It is an inside force. The top leadership sets and determines the tone, and culture of the business. His decision and action determine and affects how happy or unhappy both customers and employees are.

He’s responsible for balancing both optimum employee engagement AND customer experience. The actions and inactions of the top leadership are also responsible for setting the course for a business culture towards happy customers and employees or otherwise.

Basically, when the top leadership initiates a policy that makes the employees feel valued and motivated, they tend to put in their very best, thus translating into a better customer experience. Motivated employees increase their per capita productivity. Happy customers award repeat business. The company also benefits. All because the “captain” sets the culture which ensures that both the customers and employees are valued.

For instance, in the case of Continental Airlines, even after going through ten CEOs in ten years, Continental Airlines’ culture was still toxic and employee morale was virtually dead, not until Gordon Bethune took over the helms of affairs as the President in October of 1994. Bethune apparently changed the culture of Continental Airlines by changing the culture starting at the top.

He even had to fire 39 senior VPs who had trouble adjusting to his new “employees first” mantra. By changing Continental’s business culture, and starting by valuing employees, even at the least cadre, Bethune transformed the Continental Airlines from ranking dead last in every customer service ranking to winning more J.D. Powers and Associates awards for Customer Service than any other airline in the world.

In addition, the company ranked high in Fortune’s ranking of top 100 companies to work, and the stock price also rose from $2 a share to over $50 a share.

Clearly, there’s no need to put either the customer or employee ahead of the other. There cannot be customers without employees, or employees without customers. It is similar to the chicken and egg mystery: both came first. Employees and customers are indivisibly linked. Sacrificing the employees on the altar of customer satisfaction will, obviously, disrupt the balance, and hence generate a serious problem for the company.

In fact, when the top leadership is focused, visionary and result-oriented and put in place the right policy action which enhances a balanced culture of employee engagement and customer experience at the same instance, the possibility of even having valued and motivated employees who don’t add value to both the customer and business is unlikely.

When employees are engaged and motivated, they tend to invest their time, energy, and skills heavily into the product, and services, of the company. Which is beneficial to not just the company but the customers.

Moreover, this will usher the company into a dimension in which it is no longer necessary to convince people that the company’s product or services are the best in the market, before customers patronize them, obviously because the customers feel the product/services and the customer services of the company are top-notch.

Customers and employees are very important in business. Treat your employees right and they will take care of your customers.

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