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Putting Customers First Again

There used to be a time when statements like, “the customer is always right,” prevailed. But over time, cynicism has crept into how those working to serve the customer actually feel about the people who pay the bills. This is because, in top down organizational hierarchies, you don’t get to be CEO from great customer service. You get there by increasing profits for shareholders at the expense of all else.

There is a counter movement to shareholder capitalism growing in force recently. This movement, called stakeholder capitalism, aims to raise the bar for corporate leaders and reflect the need for companies to serve more than investors. Stakeholder capitalism is about enhancing the lives of employees, customers, the community, the environment, and shareholders simultaneously. It’s an idea that was recently embraced by 200 of the Fortune 500’s CEO’s during the 2019 Business Roundtable Forum.

What does that mean for middle managers and those in closest contact with the customer?

Well, it is a reflection that employee experience drives customer experience. Talent acquisition and perks are no longer enough. Managers must truly reflect the values of a corporation trying to do well by doing good.

It all starts with the community. Forget about sourcing talent only from feeder Ivy League schools. The corporation and your teams should be a reflection of the area in which you work. That means focusing on attributes such as work-ethic, heart, optimism, and maturity that are universal versus the pedigree of someone’s university or the brand name of their previous company. Hiring in this way and also adding in the important dimensions of diversity, equity, and inclusion into the mix will ensure a more representative sample of colleagues who are a reflection of your customer base and your community.

Managers then need to take greater accountability for onboarding their team members. I advocate for a process of INNERviewing post hire where the manager and the colleague have a style and expectations conversation to build their connection, trust, and partnership right from the start. The manager will have the “keys to the kingdom” with each employee as they will have explored each colleague’s unique background, strengths, gaps, motivators, desires, turn-offs, and recognition types. A team and organization full of hard working, passionate, solution-oriented, and mature people who are understood and supported by their managers will bring fun, positivity, and high engagement to their interactions with customers.

Such an organization that reflects the customer and the community can take on broader social goals such as reducing the carbon footprint, increasing equity, eradicating social injustice, and sustainably producing the companies products and services. And with the customer, employees, community, and environmental efforts in sync – profits will be delivered more consistently and this will propel and perpetuate the business over time.

So it’s time to put the customer first again, by being a reflection of their diversity, issues, needs, desires, hopes, and dreams. Customer service drives customer experience especially when you have the right people with the right background and mindset doing the servicing!

Omar L. Harris is the managing partner at Intent Consulting, a firm dedicated to improving employee experience and organizational performance and author of Leader Board: The DNA of High-Performance Teams and The Servant Leader's Manifesto available for purchase in ebook or print on Please follow him Instagram, Twitter, and/or his website for more information and engagement.


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