Who’s More Important: Your Employees Or Your Customers?

Pyramid of employees
Photo by lululemon athletica

I was talking to an employee at a gym the other day and was surprised to hear him mention that he was worried about one of the gym patrons (let’s call him “Frank”). Frank was always cooperative with the other gym patrons, but in the past few months Frank has become quite argumentative with the staff. At times, the arguments have become abusive and almost leading to a fight. The gym employee eventually reported the physical confrontation with his supervisor, and a quick meeting ensued. Frank quickly apologized, the manager sided with Frank, and the employee was without recourse. While the fighting hasn’t (yet) reoccurred, the abusive attitude continues. And now the employee is scared that Frank will do something even more dangerous (perhaps to another patron of the gym or another staff member).

If the gym is your business, how would you handle things? It would seem that if you side with Frank, you alienate your employee. Side with the employee, you alienate your customer. It’s a seemingly no-win situation.

By siding with your customer, you’re clearly stating that “the customer is always right” and that you can easily be replaced. That attitude creates a hostile work environment. Your staff are now more concerned about their well-being (inwardly-focused) rather than making a difference in your business (outwardly-focused). You don’t lose a customer, but you won’t be growing your business with passionate employees. You also allow a bully to run free possibly alienating other customers.

Instead, imagine siding with your employee. Make it clear what acceptable behavior is towards your staff. And, if someone violates your guidelines, give them a quick warning. If the behavior continues, fire your customer. This clearly sets the message that your employees are family, and your family comes first. This will also set higher expectations of your customers.

By ensuring the well-being of your employees, you’re guaranteeing that your employees will be looking out for the well-being of your business as well.

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