Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

Before You Can Be Customer Centric, You Must Be Employee Centric

One of the most popular phrases in customer service today is “customer centricity.”  This is simply a focus on the customer, which means that everything the company does, every system and process that runs the business, has the customer in mind.  The customer centric organization wins because it focuses on the customer.

This reminds me of Jan Carlzon’s organizational chart from the 1980’s: the upside down pyramid. Carlzon ran Scandinavian Airlines and took the loosing airline to the most admired airline in the industry.  Originally, the CEO was at the top of the pyramid and the organizational flow went to the second tier or, senior management, to the next tier, or middle management, to the base of the pyramid or the, front line. Only this last group, connected directly to the customer.  Carlzon said this was upside down.  The customer should be at the top.  Everything should flow up to the customer, who should be at the top, not the bottom, of the pyramid. This was brilliant thinking, and almost thirty years later business experts now refer to this as a customer centric organization.

Carlzon also said that if you’re not directly serving the customer, you are probably serving someone who is serving the customer.  Possibly this is the origin of the concept of the internal customer.  Carlzon knew that employees had to support each other internally, in order to take care of the company’s outside customers.

But just servicing the internal customer isn’t enough. More to the point, the way you service the internal customer needs to be just as “customer centric” as you want the organization to service the outside customer.  By the way, I’m making the assumption that you want the experience for the outside customer to be… amazing.

So, it stands to reason that your organization must be employee centric before it can be customer centric.

Take a look at the most admired places to work.  There is a direct correlation between companies that are rated high in work environment and those that are rated high in customer satisfaction ratings.  More important, this also leads to more financial success.  Since we’ve been talking about airlines, Southwest Airlines is arguably the most profitable airline in the industry.  I’ve written about Herb Kelleher’s belief that if you take care of the employees first, they will take care of the customers (passengers).  In turn, the customers will come back.  This process contributes to the bottom line.  That’s because Southwest Airlines is not just customer centric, but more important, they are employee centric.

So, which comes first, customer centricity or employee centricity?  I believe you first choose to be customer centric, but must first execute on the inside of your company and be employee centric.

Shep Hyken is a   customer service expert, professional  speaker and New York Times     bestselling business author. For information contact (314) 692-2200 or For information on The  Customer  Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken
(Copyright ©MMXII, Shep Hyken)

  1. I believe that your thoughts and concepts are spot on. Whilst the understanding of good customer service is not new, it has become a priority within the healthcare world. Both internal and external pressures have ensured that customer service is forefront in the mind of many clinicians of all specialities.

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