Are employees the answer to the customer experience question?

I was recently challenged to defend this belief and here’s how I answered.


While there is data showing how some industries, like airlines, continue to increase profits while continuing to disappoint customers with surly staff members (who aren’t necessarily being treated well themselves), I still believe the “secret” to any great customer experience is the people who deliver it.

Profits go up in those industries because there is not enough competition or disruption.

the right employees

Make no mistake. When the challenger comes along, it does take marketshare from the companies who don’t get it. Southwest Airlines, Zappos and Amazon were all the disruptors of their day, and they all focused on delivering exceptional customer service. Companies that figure out how to hire the right people win.

But it starts earlier.

Know what your mission is.

It’s easy to say “we hire the right employees” but how can you measure it? How do you know you’re hiring right if you don’t know truly what you’re hiring for? If a great customer experience is your goal, then you better have a customer experience mission. If a candidate says they can deliver on skills but falls short on mission, then it’s time to find another candidate.

When it comes to training those who already work with you, you need a mission for that, too. Otherwise, bad people for your organization can hide behind competence. Training to objective accomplishments sounds great, but in reality we need humans who can handle other humans. This means we need to understand how to handle sticky situations that aren’t in the manual. The only way to do that is to know what the mission is.

If people understand what they should do, great. If people understand why they should do it, better.

Scale to fit.

As organizations grow, the mission and hiring to it becomes even more critical.

Google often comes under fire for taking actions not representative of their well-known corporate motto of “Don’t be evil.” As Google grew and grew, they took this motto to be a mission of sorts, even including it in their founder’s letter for their IPO.

The company has changed course after criticism of actions not fitting this motto, including blocking search results in China. Really this is about taking action based on who they are, not necessarily what they do. The leaders know this is a long-term strategy and they might miss out on short-term gains. Getting the right people involved who can innovate and support these ideals trumps hiring based on resume credentials.

the right employees

Now that Google is a juggernaut, it’s easy to criticize certain actions and say they aren’t living up to these ideals, but I’d argue that on the whole, they are.

When China’s government attempted to block Google results for politically sensitive topics, Google China redirected users to Google’s Hong Kong results. China recently blocked Google completely and appears to be shutting down the service for millions of users. The way Google attempted to release free information is about the users, not the government, and their motto stays true to that.

There are so many tricky situations we simply can’t anticipate when we develop interview questions or write training manuals. Finding who you are and the people who live those ideals is the best way to truly deliver on a superior customer experience.

[Photo Credits: Clearly Contacts, tangi_bertin via Creative Commons license]