Business wisdom said, “The customer comes first.”
Terrible idea. Unless you’re a solopreneur, your customers are dealing with your employees. If your employees don’t feel valued, customers won’t have a good experience.
So the wisdom evolved: “We put our people first.”
I bought into that idea for a long time. It worked pretty well. But something about the either/or proposition never quite felt complete.
Then it came to me: the mindset necessary to produce satisfied, loyal employees is the same mindset necessary to produce satisfied, loyal customers.
It turns out that employees and customers are people. We’re in the people business.
A Venue Of Exchange
A business is a place where people come to exchange value. Our business has something to offer, and we hope to get some things in return.
Whether the people are employees or customers, the best way to maximize that return is to provide the highest possible value.
That means I have to understand their needs and wants.
If you’ve tried selling something to customers that they don’t care about, you know what I mean. I do way better when I’m able to figure out what customers want and need. Otherwise I’m just spinning my wheels.
That means (a) aligning myself with customers’ needs and (b) not spending a lot of time trying to make customers out of people who don’t want my stuff.
So I’ve learned to apply that to employees as well:
- What do they want?
- What do they need?
- How can I provide more value to them?
- How do I focus on attracting the ones whose wants and needs I can deliver?
My Exchange With Customers
I know what I want to earn from customers: loyalty and longevity. I want customers to love us so much that they keep paying for our service month in and month out.
Because I want to maximize my recurring revenue and my customer lifetime value, minimize my cost of revenue, get more referrals, and have everyone be more fulfilled.
Getting new customers can be a difficult, expensive grind. Gotta do it, but it’s not easy. I easily get tired of:
- repetitive sales presentations
- working leads
- managing comp plans
- trying to squeeze blood from the marketing turnip
All that new customer acquisition effort, only to have them leave after a few months, is exhausting. I hate starting over. I hate replacing old customers with new customers.
By contrast, keeping customers involves lots of compounding effort. Things that make us permanently better, like:
- Continuously improving our business.
- Inspiring employees to own customer results.
- Meeting with customers often and learning about what they value.
- Driving great results.
- Adding dollars to their bottom line.
Less starting over. Less churn cost. More recurring, repeat, and referral business. You get the idea.
How can I persuade more customers to pay with dollars and loyalty?
By understanding and providing what makes them want to stay, upgrade, refer, etc. Some things they value are:
- Getting lots of appointments.
- Getting high-quality appointments.
- Minimizing no-shows.
- Having a dedicated team member.
- Knowing that we care about them and their businesses.
- Top-notch communication.
- Flexibility, convenience, simplicity, etc.
The more I can provide these things, the more ideal customers I’ll win, and the longer I’ll keep them.
Ok, so what about employees?
My Exchange With Employees
I also know what I want from employees: to help me produce customer loyalty and longevity.
To do that, my employees need to be good at what they do, provide great value and experience to customers, and stick around long enough to have meaningful impact.
In fact, let’s put a fine point on it. I need them to:
- Take ownership of results and relationships.
- Manage themselves.
- Build profitable customer relationships based on value and trust.
- Positively impact their peers.
- Be promotable.
- Stay for a long time.
Less starting over. Less churn cost. More employee referrals. Again, you get the idea.
How can I persuade them to provide all that instead of just checking their boxes?
By understanding and providing what makes them want to stay longer, upgrade their performance, refer friends, etc. That means things like:
- Not having to worry about paying the bills.
- Feeling secure, trusted, respected, and appreciated.
- Opportunities to learn new things and increase their market value.
- A fair shot at promotions.
- Help with life and career challenges.
- Help with individual, personal things that they tell me about because we have trust.
The more I can provide these things, the more ideal employees I’ll win, and the longer I’ll keep them.
If we get the formula right, and if we continuously improve and differentiate our business, we’ll attract and retain more of the right employees and the right customers.
This is critical.
If I onboard the wrong customers, employees will be miserable, and it will rub off on everything they do.
If I onboard the wrong employees, customers will be dissatisfied, and the market will hear about it.
So I’m always striving to perfect our ability to acquire and retain the right employees and the right customers.
We’re not perfect at it yet, but we get better every year.
The result is both employees and customers who stay with us for years, or even a decade or more. And at some point, that starts to look like a community.
Employees + Customers = Community
When I hear employees bragging about how great their customers are, or when I go into the field and hear agents name-dropping our employees, I know something is working.
It’s not because “the customer comes first.”
It’s not because “we put employees first.”
It’s because we put people first and work to maximize the value we give them in exchange for the value we hope to get.