Who would have thought that one day the customer would be dethroned from his long reign as king? Make way for the new ruler of business and industry, ladies and gentlemen – the employee!

The status quo has been disrupted, and for good reason. How and when did companies demote their customer from his high pedestal, and replace him with one of their own?

Let’s explore the essence of this radical paradigm shift, and how you can use these ideas to your advantage!

Richard Branson, Virgin business legend, said it best, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Employees of a company are brand ambassadors as well. A smiling and friendly employee is the best endorsement a company can have. However, if an employee acts indifferent or lacks enthusiasm, customers can smell it a mile away and are sure to vanish out of sight. Making sure your employees are satisfied and happy goes a long way in creating and retaining customers.

In today’s era of fierce competition, your clients and customers are spoilt for choice and can change buying habits on a whim if they so choose to. This makes it doubly important for companies to take full advantage of their employees’ knowledge, experience, and unique set of skills. New ideas and constant innovation are possible only when employees see their ideas being implemented and their opinions are taken into consideration by top management.

When employees see that their decisions and contributions are valued they feel trusted, and will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that their company does well.

Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies and author of the 2010 book Employees First, Customers Second, in an interview with Forbes, said, “Your employees are the gateway to customer satisfaction, and if they aren’t happy, the customer isn’t going to be happy.”

Thanks to the Internet and social media, today’s well-informed and price-conscious customer flits about shopping where they find the best deals, either online or otherwise. Price wars have become passé; today’s companies fight a different battle with each other to stand out – of providing excellent customer service. This is only possible and becomes profitable when companies invest well in, and bring out their secret weapon – their employees.

Harold Schultz, founder and former CEO of Starbucks, shares a great insight from his experience over the years – “Treating employees benevolently shouldn’t be viewed as an added cost that cuts into profits, but

as a powerful energizer that can grow the enterprise into something far greater than one leader could envision.”

True business visionaries understand that the secret of a seamless customer experience starts with recognizing employees’ performance, keeping them engaged and motivated, ensuring their satisfaction and loyalty, and thus creating happy customers!

So how can companies invest in their employees and rest assured that their workforce is contributing their best towards the company’s success and growth?

1. By building a culture of trust

According to the Society for Human Resource Engagement, 61% of employees feel that trust between them and senior management is very important for job satisfaction. By listening to and involving employees in the decision-making process, companies create an environment with trust on both sides. Trust-building should be part of a long-term strategy by a company as it takes time to develop.

2. By making managers and employees accountable to each other

When employees see that management is also accountable to them, it increases their value and feeling of responsibility, prompting them to be equally accountable in return. While it could be construed as an extremist principle, this feedback cycle has been shown to improve productivity, output, and subsequently, profits for the company.

3. By offering employee benefits

Whether it is flexible working hours, loan assistance, timely perks & bonuses or even medical insurance for employees’ families, receiving such benefits makes the employees feel more valued, and pushes them to stay loyal while putting their best foot forward at work.

4. By empowering HR and employee-related departments

In most companies, while important decisions are made, departments like Finance, Marketing or Operations are given greater say than departments like HR. By giving employee-related departments more power, a company shows that it values people over profits, and initiative-taking over blind adherence to rules.

5. By maintaining good communication channels

A good leader is one who shows genuine interest even in an employee’s personal life. By enquiring about their families’ well-being, encouraging an employee’s hobbies and talents, being a good listener for their professional or personal problems, or even just having an ‘open-door or walk-in’ policy at work. All these seemingly small gestures play a great part in engaging, motivating and making employees feel valued. This in turn, results in a happy, productive workforce and ensures increased profits for the company!

Happy employees = Happy customers

Simon Sinek, author, motivational speaker and marketing consultant, hits the nail on the head with this quote – “The responsibility of a company is to serve the customer. The responsibility of leadership is to serve their people so that their people may better serve the customer. If leaders fail to serve their people first, both customer and company will suffer.”

We all crave appreciation when we feel we’ve gone the extra mile to deliver, no matter what industry we’re part of. When we don’t receive the recognition we so tirelessly work for, we disconnect from our work, our co-workers and leave for a place where we are more valued. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario with many individuals and companies, and one that could be easily avoided!

The way employees feel is the way customers will too. It would be quite right to assert then, that companies that don’t value their employees don’t value their customers.

It would be only fitting to conclude with this hard-hitting quote from Timothy R. Clark (founder of consulting & training firm TR Clark Associates) that shows just how important employees are, to any company’s survival –

“Highly engaged employees make the customer experience. Disengaged employees break it.”

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