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40+ Years of Management Experience Summed Up In 10 Thoughts, Part 5

Each week we are exploring 10 steps to mighty management (click here to start at the beginning). Here at the half way point, we'll take a look at the customer-comes-first mentality.

Thought #5: Great Customer Service Starts at the Top

In your organization, if the Customer Service or Business Development teams are the only ones talking about customer service or being trained on how to provide it, then it’s highly unlikely that your customers are actually feeling like they’re getting the best service from you. And let’s face it, there is money in keeping your current customers, more money in keeping your customers satisfied, and even more money in transforming your satisfied customers into raving fans.

As I write, I happen to be sitting on a flight from Beijing, China to San Francisco. If you’ve never made the trek, it’s a long journey of more than 10 hours sitting in a very small seat on a crowded aircraft. And on this particular flight, we quickly discovered that we were in a plane with much more cramped seating accommodations than newer planes, and no personal entertainment systems (i.e. no screens for each seat). Not only that, but the Internet was costly, and as it turns out, quite spotty. The “free” entertainment really wasn’t working at all. We were told this was a problem while over the Chinese and Russian airspace, however we had no connection even as we made it closer to home.

This had all the markings of a terrible flight. However, we had excellent flight attendants who intentionally created an atmosphere of authenticity and fun, which quickly became so much more important than the limitations of our environment. They understood the value of offering their very best, even when the circumstances were less than ideal. No... especially when the circumstances were less than ideal! The results were that we became “raving fans” instead of only passengers and will gladly share our experience with others.

But here’s the thing – great customer service doesn’t exist in and of itself. As the founder of Southwest Airlines (not the airline we were flying, by the way), Herb Kelleher did something outstanding—he grew an airline from nothing to more than 3500 flights a day, turning a profit every single year since 1972. He’s been called the clown prince of airlines and Fortune magazine referred to him the best CEO in America. He suggests that “the customer comes first” mentality isn’t quite the right approach, but that the employees need to come first. At first blush that statement may seem inappropriate, but take a look at his philosophy:

“If the employees come first, then they’re happy…. A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders. It’s not one of the enduring great mysteries of all time, it is just the way it works.”

So let’s consider these two examples and determine to pour our support into those around us, knowing that it’ll overflow to the customer and ultimately make everyone (the shareholders, the employee, management, and the customer) happier and more successful.

TAKE ACTION: While we all cannot effect a change from the top down in our organizations, we can at least make a change in our team. When was the last time you went out of your way to treat your team with the same kind of respect that you’d treat your customers? Do they know their value in your eyes? Are you clearly communicating that you’re happy to have them on board? Here are a few ways that you can show your appreciation:

  • “Catch” them doing something great, and offer recognition.

  • Write a note of thanks for their contribution to the team.

  • Buy donuts once a month as an offer of gratitude for their hard work.

  • Send an email to upper management recognizing their efforts, and copy them on the message.

  • Treat them to breakfast or lunch when it’s not a holiday or their birthday.

  • Let them leave a few hours early before a long weekend.

  • Simply stop by routinely and let them know that you appreciate them.

The bottom line is that we all want to feel appreciated and that we’re a part of the team. While you’re pouring into this awesome group that works hard every day, use the opportunity to help them understand that customers appreciate the very same things. And then empower them to spend the extra few minutes providing the best service possible when interacting with your customers.

Kirsten Smith, founder of Made to Thrive Consulting has over 20 years Business Development and Management experience with small and large organizations alike, including those listed among the Fortune 500.

For information on training courses that can help your organization reach the next level, visit or contact Kirsten Smith at

© 2017 Made to Thrive Consulting, LLC. All right reserved


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