One of the most popular phrases in customer service today is “customer centricity.” This means that everything a company does, every system or process on which the business relies, has the customer in mind. A customer-centric organization wins because the customer is given a preeminent position within the organizational model.
In the 1980s, CEO Jan Carlzon ran Scandinavian Airlines and transformed the losing carrier into the most admired airline in the industry. His legacy is the organizational pyramid. Traditional wisdom had placed the CEO at the top of the pyramid. From there, authority flowed downward to the second tier (senior management) and then to the third tier (middle management) and ended at the base of the pyramid (frontline employees who were connected directly to the customer).
Carlzon’s genius was in flipping the pyramid so that the customer was placed at the top. Everything should flow up to the customer, who should be at the top of the pyramid, he said. Carlzon literally turned the business model on its head, and almost 30 years later, business experts now refer to this as a customer-centric model.
Carlzon also said that if your job is not to directly serve the customer, it is probably serving another employee who is serving the customer. (Possibly this is the origin of the concept of the “internal customer.”) Carlzon knew that employees had to support one another internally in order to take care of the company’s outside customers. The way you service the internal customer equates to the way the organization services the outside customer. So, it stands to reason that your organization must be employee centric before it can be customer centric.
Take a look at the work places that are most admired. There is a direct correlation between companies rated high in work environment and those that are rated high in customer satisfaction. Since we’ve been talking about airlines, Southwest Airlines is arguably the most profitable airline in the industry. I’ve written about CEO Herb Kelleher’s belief that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. Satisfied customers translate into repeat business and in turn contribute to the bottom line. Southwest Airlines is not just customer centric but also employee centric.
So, which comes first, customer centricity or employee centricity? I believe you must first satisfy your employees if you have any hope of satisfying your customers.
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