If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients — Richard Branson
Richard Branson knows what he's talking about. While building the Virgin Group, a multinational conglomerate overseeing his many ventures, he adopted an interesting approach: putting the customers second. With a current yearly revenue of €22 billion, the surprising strategy seems to have turned out to work pretty well.
It's an interesting way of doing things — especially when some of the world's most successful companies treat their customers like kings. Take Amazon, for example, which prides itself on a relentless focus on something it calls 'customer obsession'. If any of your deliveries arrive a day late, you'll be showered with gift coupons. When you need any kind of support, customer care is available 24/7. Because it's willing to do anything for happy customers, the brand has now become synonymous with customer satisfaction.
But in recklessly chasing after the best customer experience, the company has been messing up other parts of its operation. It recently came to light that employees in some of Amazon's fulfillment centers were struggling under their 50-hour work weeks. An undercover reporter claimed that workers were forced to process a package every 30 seconds, resulting in some of them falling asleep standing. As it turns out, honoring a one-day shipping policy for millions of daily orders comes at a cost.
Virgin, on the other hand, doesn't let its customers get in the way of employee wellbeing. Instead, it focuses on making its workforce feel valued, giving them the flexibility to work from home or take up an unlimited number of vacation days. Of course Branson's companies don't fail to meet the demands of their customers — lots of them have grown into very popular brands — but they get there in a different way.
Employees over customers
It might not be immediately clear how an employee-focused company can be more successful than a customer-focused one — they get to decide if they want to spend their money on your product or service, after all. However, there are lots of reasons why putting employees first can end up being very profitable.
First off, if your company deals with customer support of any kind, taking care of your employees can end up improving your customer experience. While technology has made it much easier to understand clients by analyzing their data, a big part of their experience still happens through personal contact. Creating memorable, bespoke experiences can only be done by a motivated workforce that doesn't mind to go the extra mile.
Of course, your employees need to want to create this experience — if they don't care about their employer, good luck getting them to act as ambassadors for your company. By motivating and rewarding them appropriately, your business can demonstrate its commitment to their work, making it easier to align their interests with your goals. Do it the right way, and you'll turn them into fans that share their positive experience with friends and family — something that can end up helping you save money on marketing.
Secondly, one of the hardest things about running a company is finding great people that can support you. If you've spent lots of resources to find talent that's a great fit with the team you want to make sure you keep them in the team, because replacing an employee will always cost more than keeping a current one.
A great work environment that supports and empowers employees can make them feel valued and have them understand they're an important part of the organization. This makes them happy to come in to work, and in general keeps moods lifted — they will love coming into work.
Depending on your company, it might not be easy to implement a culture that values employees over customers. Maybe its focus has been very customer-centric in the past, or changes to policies are adopted very slowly. But even in these cases, it’s not impossible to make a positive change.
There are a lot of different ways to make your employees feel valued and make them thrive. Some companies provide a luxurious lunch for free — Google has over 30 places to eat in its Silicon Valley headquarters, ranging from coffee shops to a full-blown Indian restaurant.
Others, like Apple, have employees pay for their lunch, but instead reward them with stock buying options or extra days off. The most important, however, is to listen to your co-workers — this ensures problems and input are quickly dealt with, and don’t end up being dismissed. By scheduling personal feedback sessions and company-wide Q&A events, it’s possible to engage employees with how the business they work for is run.
It’s also important that workers are infused with a sense of autonomy and responsibility. Nobody ever went above and beyond in their job when they were following a strict set of rules — by allowing them to be creative, the solutions they come up with can be much more effective in creating an amazing customer experience. At the same time, having a high amount of responsibility doesn’t just let them make important decisions quicker, it also makes them feel valued for what they’re doing.
Another great way to empower your workforce is by giving them the right tools — using Xpenditure in your company can be a great way to reduce manual work. Having a full-featured platform to deal with your expenses can be a great way to relieve your employees of one of their least favorite tasks — managing their expenses.
Of course there are many more services that can make their life easier, and it’s your job to figure out which they need to become self-sufficient, responsible and effective employees — you’ll be happy to end up with a more motivated team.