Treat Your Employees Better Than Your Customers?

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Group of three successful business partners in casual communicating at meeting in office


When I worked as a team leader in call center I wanted to support my team in every possible way, to make sure they give their best support on the phone with the customers.

If it meant allowing an extra break after a difficult call, I granted it. If it meant sitting next to my people and advising them during the call, I did it. If it meant telling an agent after the contact with a customer that she was right and the customer was not, I said so.

In total, I tried to be helpful, fair, and do what I would have expected of my manager.

As I had worked on the phone before I knew that the customer is not a king and of course not always right. But the question is not who’s right, but how to handle the issue and how to solve it so that everyone is happy.

But not everyone thinks like that. I know managers that don’t back up their people, managers that do everything to keep a client. Even if the client is a pain in the butt and mistreats your own people.

Why would you tolerate this? Where does this lead to?

I felt that the way I was handling this employee vs. customer issue was right, but I had nothing to support this. Until I’ve read Simon Sinek’s lines in his book Start With Why:

Great organizations become great because the people inside the organization feel protected. The strong sense of culture creates a sense of belonging and acts like a net. People come to work knowing that their bosses, colleagues and the organization as a whole will look out for them. This results in reciprocal behaviour. Individual decisions, efforts and behaviours that support, benefit and protect the long-term interest of the organization as a whole.

Southwest Airlines, a company renowned for its customer focus, does not, as a matter of policy, believe the customer is always right. Southwest will not tolerate customers who abuse their staff. They would rather those customers fly on a different airline. It’s a subtle irony that one of the best customer service companies in the country focuses on its employees before its customers. The trust between the management and the employees, not dogma, is what produces the great customer service.  

What Sinek tries to illustrate is:

Building trust with employees and backing them up

makes employees feel supported and trusted

and leads to a better customer service. 


It makes complete sense. But the fear of losing clients is blindfolding managers.

But what is the consequence in acting as though the client is always right?

You’ll never tell your people they’re right although you know they are. You’ll never “fire” a client who is abusive. You as a manager and as a company lose respect. You won’t have a great team of people and can’t provide excellent customer service.

The key is to go for a honest and human approach. Support those who need support. Be able to tell a customer off in a diplomatic and professional way. Teach your people how to handle situations where the customer has a wrong information or asks for something that can’t be done. Tell your people that they did a good job. Tell them when not.

Be genuine. Transparent. Honest. We all are human.