Why Leaders Should View Employees Like Customers

Consider this question for a moment:  Who is the most important person or group in your business?  As you consider that question, here are a few more that may assist you in focusing on who it really is that is most important:  Who is actually responsible for the delivery of your strategic vision and your company’s ultimate reason for being? What does your company produce and who do you rely on to bring this product into being?  If an entire layer in your organisation was to be fired tomorrow, who could you not afford to lose?

Ultimately, all of these questions lead to one common answer:  Your employees.  And in each of your unique cases, the questions may assist you to zero in on which group of employees is most important.  Consider this from Camille Isaacs-Morellu as the introduction to the rest of the article:

“When it comes to creating the conditions for business success, the needs of the employee must always come first. Customers and shareholders ultimately benefit from the contribution of employees who either make or break the success of the business.”

She goes on to share that in recent studies conducted in the United States and Canada it was discovered that between 71 and 75% of all employees are disengaged, and this costs their economies in excess of $350 billion per annum in lost productivity.

Let’s consider this idea of disengaged in the context of a business-customer relationship:

What would be the first thing you do if you suddenly learned that between 71 and 75% of your customers were disengaged or in the process of disengaging your brand or business?  No doubt you would want to know why they were disengaged, and would immediately set out to learn what they were struggling with, what aspects of their concerns your product was failing to meet, and how you might improve what you do in order to satisfy their needs. Jobert E. Abueva, vice president of global sales and marketing at The Oxford Princeton Programme, says it this way:

“Two decades ago, I wrote that “customer satisfaction is the link between short-term success and long-term growth and prosperity.” I contended that customer service would be realized by constantly asking questions and listening to the answers. Being open to customer feedback fosters loyalty, which in turn stimulates both top and bottom lines.”

Good old customer satisfaction still translates into rave reviews, repeat business, top of mind and actual growth.”

Imagine what “good old employee satisfaction” might do for your business and bottom line.

Disengaged in the employee context really means that they do the bare minimum and any “discretionary” time or effort is used for something else.

Another question for you: Do you treat those in your business (your employees) the same way you treat those outside of your business (your customers)?

What you really need to do is begin viewing your employees as your customers.

This is not a new idea but it is surprising how few leaders and leadership teams do this.  And we can understand why:  it is hard to allow the thought in that the “employee is always right”, or his or her views and opinions are of more worth than yours.  Wouldn’t this approach be disempowering to us as leaders?  My position is that it would do exactly the opposite, that it would in fact assist you to function more as a leader and less as a “child-minder”.

“The opportunity for leaders is now less about delivery of services and more about equipping, enabling and educating business leaders to make much better decisions.”, declares Ravin Jesuthasan, MD and global practice leader for Towers Watson.

But we cannot equip, enable, and educate without inviting feedback and understanding needs.  Consider the following from Tom Graves, an enterprise architect and consultant:

“In this context, ‘outside-in‘ means looking at things from the employee’s perspective. To put it bluntly, why would anyone want to work for you, or with you? If the only reason on offer is money, don’t expect good results: as Dan Pink and others have warned, a focus on money alone tends to lead to a ‘race to the bottom’. Instead, think of it exactly the same as for any other customer-journey: what are the touch-points, the areas of friction, of satisfaction and dissatisfaction? Viewing employee as customer in this sense can often be a real eye-opener, leading to a literal revolutionary shift in how the organisation engages with (emphasis: ‘with‘) its employees – as revolutionary as ‘pull-marketing‘ is in the organisation’s relationships with its customers.”

The following are ways in which we can begin to more effectively engage our employees the way we might engage our customers:

1.      Listen and Act

Implement feedback sessions, do surveys, and run 360 programmes.  A three or four week feedback engagement including all of these above mentioned tools, while possibly painful and coming at a cost in the short term, could yield invaluable returns over the long run.  Resolve to act on feedback given as soon as possible and focus on those areas and issues that will make the biggest difference.

A warning:  Our experience in doing this is that where there previously hasn’t been a culture of open communication and feedback, this can be and often is a painful and frustrating process where leaders must be mature enough to accept what is coming at them.  But ultimately, the juice is worth the squeeze.

2.      Segment your workforce

Just like marketing teams will identify different demographic groups and treat each group as a separate and distinct market segment, so too we should be engaged in learning about our employees and their individual needs.  In this modern age, we can no longer get away with painting everyone in broad strokes and with the same brush.

3.      Communicate and make it relevant

Think back to your own experience in those long, drawn out meetings where the boss thought he was doing a great job communicating when all the while he was talking at you and sharing things that actually made very little difference to your job.  You remember those?  Have you become your boss or do you talk with (emphasis on “with”) your people about their jobs and their needs?

Communication must also be timeous and consistent for it to become a worthwhile engagement tool.  Please also consider the nature and relevance of your current communication channels and how you might improve these.

4.      Treat your employees like adults

I promise that in many, if not most, cases you are not the smartest person in the room, no matter your title or qualifications.  IQ does not mean you are technically able, nor does technical brilliance equal levels of emotional (people) intelligence (EQ).   ‘Smart’ is relative and contextual.

Rather seek to empower your employees so that they do not need to run to your office each time a problem arises.

When it comes right down to it, as leaders and managers, our function is to support and empower those whose main objective is the production of the goods or services that our organisation was founded to supply.  We can best do so by taking a step out onto the ‘production’ floor and viewing our employees as customers.

This article was featured in the





Founder of Future CEOs™ and co-host of the Future CEOs™ show on CliffCentral.com, Gareth seeks to empower high potential young executives and ambitious entrepreneurs as they push for CEO status.

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022
Email: info@leadershipplatform.com

Follow Us

Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


By subscribing you will be updated with the latest insights and news from us. We never spam.