208-376-1701 bryan@bryanyager.com
First a quote: “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” – Simon Sinek

Good morning and Happy Monday!

Which group of people is more important to your business? Your customers, or your employees?

This is a classic “chicken & egg” question, isn’t it? However, instead of asking which came first, I’m asking who is more important to your ongoing business success. Your customers, or your employees?

While on the surface this may seem to be an almost ridiculous question; I believe it merits much deeper consideration. Especially during these times of excessive employee restlessness, high turnover, and escalating job vacancies.

Some have even labeled the current employment environment “The Great Resignation.”

Perhaps, as leaders, some of us are unintentionally sending the wrong message to our associates. More on that to follow.

Please hear me out on this one. We all understand customers are the “lifeblood” of any business. Without customers, there is no business. However, the opposite is true as well; without hardworking, caring, and dedicated employees to serve your customers, there is no business either, at least not a thriving business.

The last 12 – 18 months bear witness to this truth. Here are just a few examples I have experienced:

  • It took four weeks to get an oil change appointment for our car and six weeks to schedule a major repair. Short staffing was given as the reason for the unusually long wait times.
  • The deli counter in our local grocery store has been closed unpredictably with only limited hours of operation on some key shopping days, again, due to short staffing.
  • Flight cancellations and delays have become almost routine in recent weeks due to crew shortages and availability.
  • One of our favorite restaurants had a sign posted just inside the door which read in part, “Yes we know there are empty tables available, we just don’t have the necessary staff, or the kitchen help, to serve those tables. We will seat you as soon as we have someone available to prepare, cook, and serve you. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
  • One of my large manufacturing clients has a “months long” backlog of unfilled orders in part due to hundreds of open positions waiting to be filled.
  • When calling our doctor’s office recently to set up an appointment, a recorded message said not to expect a response or call for several days, perhaps longer.

What has been your experience? What examples could you add to this list?

“The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers.”

              Richard Branson

Let’s agree for now that both customers and employees are extremely important to the survival and growth of every business, at least businesses that depend on customers. Now, let’s go back to a variation of the “chicken & egg” question as to which comes first, customer importance or employee importance?

I submit that if you want customers to know how important they are to you and your business, you must first focus on letting your employees know how important they are to you and to achieving the organizational goals. That’s where it all begins, with your employees!

When I first began my career in food retailing, management loved to champion customer service by exhorting employees with statements like:

  • Customers are the most important people in the store.
  • The customer is always right.

While these were well-intended messages, I suspect they didn’t have the desired impact. In fact, I would argue statements like those may have done more harm than good. Those statements would likely be great examples for illustrating the “Law of Unintended Consequences.”

When we told employees that customers were the most important people in the store, those same employees likely heard something very different than what we intended. More than likely they heard: “The customers are important, and we (as employees) are not. Management doesn’t care about what we think, or how we feel.”

I often wonder why we ever thought statements like those would be motivational to our customer-facing associates.

If your goal is for your customers to feel important, and to want to come back to do more business with you in the future, what mindset do you think your employees should possess? One of importance and confidence? Or the opposite?  I know which one I would strive for.

I have always appreciated Richard Branson & Herb Kelleher’s customer service philosophies. Don’t expect your employees to treat your customers any differently than they are treated by your front-line managers. Do you know how your front-line managers are leading their people? You should.

How will you help your employees feel more important this week?

Related Articles, Book Suggestion, and Bonus Quotes Below.

How will you live, love, or lead, differently, or better, this week?


Bryan Yager

“Expanding Your Capacity for Success”

Recommended Reading:

Follow This Path; How the World’s Greatest Organizations Drive Growth by Unleashing Human Potential by Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzales-Molina

Related Articles:


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Bonus Quotes:

  • “Treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” – Stephen R. Covey
  • “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” – Richard Branson
  • “Employees are a company’s greatest asset – they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.” – Anne M. Mulcahy
  • “Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guest what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.” – Herb Kelleher
  • “Employees are the key to your success with customers. Treat them well.” – Ron Kaufman
  • “No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it!” – Jack Welch
  • “Your company’s employees are its greatest asset and your people are your product.” – Richard Branson
  • “Employee engagement is an investment we make for the privilege of staying in business.” – Ian Hutchinson

“It’s not the tools you have faith in – tools are just tools – they work, or they don’t work. It’s your people you have faith in or not.” – Steve Jobs