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Why Employee Engagement Supersedes Client Appeasement Your employees are your most important customers.

By William Bauer Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


It is time to reevaluate the long-honored adage "the customer is always right". No one's always right. As a matter of fact, forget everything you thought about putting the customer first. A failure to untether oneself from the cuffs of conformity to their point of view, bellyaching, wants, desires, et al. is limiting in perspective. Consistently putting customers first also highlights the lack of priority that should be placed on employees.

The cycle of engagement cannot be immune to employees. When management circumvents engaging employees, the opportunity cost is devastating. Rather, management must engage employees, who, in turn, engage customers. In the B2B space, the same can be said for management's relationship with retailers, instead of erroneously focusing on implementing a pull marketing strategy. I'm vividly reminded by a recent example at ROYCE in which the customer was not only wrong, but also failing to recognize that would have calamitous on employee morale and internal company culture as well as undermining the integrity-laden values upon which our family business was built.

Related: Employee Engagement Is More Important Than the Customer

Respect, not wages, is the leading reason for our very low employee churn rate. But respect is earned through action, not inspirational wall posters. The owner of a leading menswear specialty store called in to one of our accounting team members to complain (justifiably) about not promptly receiving invoices that accompanied shipments. We encourage our employees to admit our wrong-doing and focus on rectifying solutions, instead of diversionary finger-pointing.

Our AR employee, who had recently emigrated to the US, was still working on her English and received a barrage of abusive remarks not only about her accounting competence, but also her language skills, to the point of blatant xenophobia. Visibly upset, she called me over to join the call and observe, to demonstrate that she was following procedure and that the client was out of control, which he was. In such a situation, some managers would blame the employee for making the initial mistake, some managers would attempt to appease the customer, and then there was me.

I fired him.

We proudly deem our customers as members of the ever-expanding "ROYCE family", and while we enjoying growing the business, there is no tradeoff between respect for employees and garnering the traction of new customers. It would be especially counterproductive for us, as we place great emphasis on our family business ideals. Nevertheless, no business should accept unruly or controversial customers and chalk it up to the "growing pains" of building a business. A short-term sale is not a defensible reason for condoning such behavior and the ROI of aggregate employee productivity vastly outweighs that of individual customers.

Related: For True Employee Engagement, Follow These 6 Steps

After all, employees are your ambassadors. It cannot be forgotten that the customer experience begins the moment contact is made with either your brand or your employees. A first-impression failure stemming from disengaged employees is does not mean lost customers. It means no customers, period.

William Bauer

Managing Director of ROYCE New York

William Bauer is the managing director of ROYCE, a handcrafted American accessories brand based in New York City. His small-business marketing and entrepreneurial acumen have been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, BBC, CNN Money, and other prominent publications.

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