Employees First, Customers Second Puts Customers First

Put your customers second and you will get ahead faster. That’s always been the case in Ireland, right? Who could forget the scene below from the 2003 movie, Intermission? The scene is just 23 seconds long but sums up the experience of far too many Irish people in customer-service environments.

I remember not knowing whether to laugh or cry when I first saw that scene. Admittedly things have gotten better since then, but stories still circulate of this kind of customer service. It seems counter-intuitive, therefore, to see the employee-first approach lauded by the likes of Fast Company or the Harvard Business Review.

Vineet Nayar, CEO of Indian IT giant, HCL, designed and put in to practice — and then on to paper — his Employees First, Customers Second philosophy. Hired to turn the troubled company around, Nayar felt he had to build transparency with his younger Gen Y employees — those born between the mid-70s and the early 2000s. He said he needed to engage the interest of this group.

At the recent Best Places to Work seminar at DIT, John Atherton, Managing Director of McDonald’s Ireland called them the “Google Generation.” These are people used to quick answers and working collaboratively, he said.

Euro Car Parks CEO Dave Cullen also spoke of the need for transparency with employees. His approach was similar to Nayar’s when he said profit came in “slightly below people.” The idea is simple, really. If you care about staff, they will respond in kind. Cullen said this approach had not only paid off in good times through increased profits but, more importantly, helped his company survive a very difficult 2009.

Meanwhile, HCL is looking to its 57,000 workers for help in future. Asked what was needed to grow, Nayar said innovation. Asked who will innovate, he said, “employees.”