Being Customer-Centric Means Being Employee-First

While customers are the engine of commerce (no customers, no sales, no profits), not everyone within an organization is responsible for dealing with them directly. All of the IT personnel, financial czars, maintenance workers, back-office gurus, HR folks—these roles are critical to customer-centricity, albeit in an indirect way.

That’s why it’s absolutely required for every stakeholder within an organization to have a customer-oriented attitude, and to understand that he or she is responsible for his or her own internal customers. Internal customers are people that rely on support and operations personnel to get their own jobs done—jobs that often are directly customer-facing.

Taken together, management should consider implementing an “employee-first” approach, where the very heart of a business is considered to be the operational apparatus and the roles therein. From there, excellence in communication, productivity and efficiency expands outward—one can think of it like an onion, where each successive layer is closer to the outside (the customer).

Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher is a big champion on this approach, as is Virgin’s Richard Branson. Both run extremely successful customer-centric businesses.

“Employees come first, and if employees are treated right, they treat the outside world right, the outside world uses the company’s product again, and that makes the shareholders happy,” Kelleher famously has said. “That really is the way that it works, and it’s not a conundrum at all.”

And as Branson has said, happy employees mean service with a smile. "It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them the tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they're going to be happy," he said in a recent interview.

In addition to the philosophy, it’s important to put the right software in place to support this strategy and put it into practice as a differentiator, especially when it comes to collaboration tools that include social and mobile functionality. Support teams and the back office have been traditionally siloed, without a lot of information sharing happening between, say, the marketing department and the billing staff.

However, the automation of the back office and the ability to make visible important information that impacts the customer experience has become a mantra.

According to Jeremy Roche, president and CEO of, if the customer-focused company operates around the customer within all layers of the aforementioned onion—whether it is interactions through social networks or behind the scenes in managing customer transactions—gaining a comprehensive view of customers is critical—driving a need for connected apps need to part of any corporate strategy.  It is after all a digital era—today’s communications are driven by all-IP, cloud, mobility, virtualization and cross-network applications.

“To build a truly customer-centric organization, back-office functions, namely finance, services and HR, must also be connected in real-time to the rest of the organization,” he said in a blog. “Because soon, enabling cross-departmental, cross-geographic collaboration will no longer an option.”

He added that connected apps like unified communications clients are particularly adept at knocking down barriers between people and departments, especially when it comes to leveraging analytics within, say, contact center performance management, billing or workforce automation approaches. Information-sharing across departments has solid business benefits for companies: time to market gains; service agility and product development information; and intelligence that can be shared across stakeholders for use in making strategic business decisions. And all of that in turn informs a better customer-service strategy.

“The back-office has the potential to be the biggest beneficiary from the move towards this new level of connection – shifting its role from command-and-control, to an active participant and enabler in critical business conversations,” Roche said.

Edited by Maurice Nagle