Employees and Customers

"You’ve got to treat your employees like customers", writes Matt Linderman from 37signals, suggesting that when you trust your employees and you treat them as human beings they will return the favor and be loyal to the company. There is nothing wrong with this idea, but I think that it is a rather simple way of seeing the world. It is based on the premise that, first of all you should treat all your Customers in the same way and second, that loyalty alone (of customers and employees) can ensure success. Let’s see these arguments one by one:

All Customers are (not) created equal.
So, treating your employees like customers assumes that you treat all your customers in the same way. Of course this is far from true, or at least it’s far from true for successful companies. What set these companies apart is that they have a clear positioning, they target specific customers and they try to develop their relationship with them in very specific ways.

Does this mean that you should “fire” customers that don’t fit your target profile? Of course not, as a matter of fact you should try to accommodate them as long as they can coexist with your main target group and be potentially profitable for your business. The point is that your brand needs to stand for something and this by definition will screen some customers out. It’s like going to a restaurant expecting to see trendy and sophisticated people, only to be disturbed by a loud group of drunk hooligans watching sports on the TV.

Employee loyalty is (not) enough.
The same argument holds for your employees. I am not suggesting by any means that you shouldn’t treat people as human beings. But loyalty is not enough. You need people to take initiative, be passionate about the vision and be good ambassadors of the brand. Treating people as human beings is a prerequisite. But you need to attract and hire the right people to begin with. Then, you need to empower and motivate these employees, in other words inspire them and provide them the tools to excel. During this process, some people will remain loyal. Some others will be much more than that: they will become star, making a difference in your organization.

Are you going to reward these people in the same way?