Granted, employees are a very different type of customer, one that falls outside of the traditional definition. After all, instead of them paying you, you’re paying them. Yet regardless of the direction the money flows, one thing is clear: employees, just like other types of customers, want to derive value from their relationship with the organization. Not just monetary value, but experiential value, too: skill augmentation, career development, camaraderie, meaningful work, a sense of purpose, and so on. If a company or an individual leader fails to deliver the requisite value to an employee, then—just like a customer, they’ll defect. They’ll quit, driving up turnover, inflating recruiting/training expenses, undermining product/service quality, and creating a whole lot of unnecessary stress on the organization. So even though a company pays its employees, it should still provide them with a value-rich employment experience that cultivates loyalty. And that’s why it’s prudent to view both current and prospective employees as a type of customer. The argument goes beyond employee engagement, though. There’s a whole other reason why organizational leaders have a lot to gain by viewing their staff as a type of customer. That’s because, by doing so, they can personally model the customer-oriented behaviors that they seek to encourage among their workforce. How better to demonstrate what a great customer experience looks like than to deliver it to your own team? After all, how a leader serves their staff influences how the staff serves their customers. Want your team to be super-responsive to the people they serve? Show them what that looks like by being super-responsive to your team. Want them to communicate clearly with customers? Show them what that looks like by being crystal clear in your own written and verbal communications. There are innumerable ways for organizational leaders to model the customer experience behaviors they seek to promote among their staff. It has to start, however, by viewing those in your charge as a type of customer you’re trying to serve. Of course, viewing staff as customers doesn’t mean that leaders should cater to every employee whim or that they should consent to do whatever employees want. Leaders sometimes have to make tough decisions for the greater good. In those situations, effectively serving employees means showing respect for their concerns and interests, and thoughtfully explaining the rationale behind what might be an unpopular decision. The key point is simply this: with every interaction in the workplace, leaders have an opportunity to show their staff what a great customer experience looks like. Whether you’re a C-suite executive or a frontline supervisor, that opportunity must not be squandered.
Jon Picoult (From Impressed to Obsessed: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees into Lifelong Fans)