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Who comes first, the customer or the employee?

It's one of the most difficult questions in business: is it better for companies to focus on making the customer or the employee a priority? If the focus is on the employee, will your customers be affected? Will it translate into profit and see a return on investment?

Richard Branson has built the Virgin brand on the ethos of putting employees needs first and giving them greater priority. He's worked hard over the years to build a strong and highly respected brand, believing happy employees equal happy customers. As the man himself once said: “If the person who works at your company is unappreciated, they're not going to do things with a smile.” It's clear with a successful brand and a multi-million pound empire like Virgin that the employee first formula works pretty well.


The idea of delighting the employee is based on their happiness leading to a greater level of enthusiasm and engagement. A happy employee is more likely to be loyal, in tune with the company's brand and message, engaged with his or her role and better able to communicate the services the company is offering to clients. It's more likely they'll perform to the best of their ability and go that extra mile without it seeming like a massive effort. The end result is a satisfied customer who will talk about that service to friends, relatives, colleagues and the world at large via social media.

Is it realistic to expect companies to be focused on the heart of the business rather than the bottom line? Do they have to be separate considerations? Putting employees first doesn't necessarily mean lavishing them with incentives, but providing them with the direction and the tools to move the company forward, to create an impact on daily performance and the company's overall success. This can be achieved in various ways, such as the delivery of strategic and consistent communication so employees feel included and valued.

Other employee first methods include team building exercises to encourage social interaction and improve the team bonding experience. Many companies believe team building events can be expensive and time consuming. However, events firms are flexible and often take into account budget and time restraints. Internal team building exercises encourage positive and happier work relationships. In the long term, they can pay for themselves.


Could a company prosper on both a spiritual level and financial level? If a company wants to become profitable, greater spend on employee development programmes, team building and training increases well-being and happiness. UKTV recently scooped a win at the 2016 Employee Benefits Awards for the company with the Most Motivational Benefits. The company has implemented a successful motivation strategy, including four incentive schemes alongside the company employee benefits and staff bonus scheme. The scheme has been a real success for the company after they reached record profits last year. Also, when employees come first and the customer second, does this guarantee that customers will always feel the benefits?

Further benefits of the employee first way of operating include increased employee retention. The customer benefits from the skills of an experienced, happy and well-trained employee with a bank of useful knowledge to draw upon. If a customer is engaged and receives great customer service from a company, they become more loyal and turn into advocates for that company. It's a great platform for pushing the word of mouth marketing channel and promoting the brand positively. These are vital strategies in the age of TripAdvisor and Trustpilot.


It can be difficult to get management to choose an employee first culture. Shifting the attention away from the customer and onto the employee can be a pretty daunting prospect and seems almost counter-intuitive. Look at companies such as Virgin and American Express, and you'll see it's not.

The reality is six of one and half a dozen of the other. One doesn't take priority over the other. Both are equally important but in order to create a productive, positive culture it may be necessary to invest in team building methods and employee programs. This in turn can future proof long term profits for a company.

Who comes first in your business? Have you invested in any employee programs? We'd love to hear from you on LinkedIn or Twitter?

Image credit: istockphoto.com and giphy.com

Written by Jenna Halford

29th Wednesday June 2016