Mar 6, 2020

Read Time 7 min

Customer Success Starts Within: 6 Ways to Put Employees First


The Customer Success industry is obsessed with cracking the code on customer experience and loyalty. Afterall, an “obsessive compulsive focus on the customer” is the number-one thing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos attributes to the company’s monstrous success and near trillion-dollar valuation. So, it’s easy to see how a fixation on the customer can overshadow the very people who make that success possible: the employees.

This calls to mind some classic self-help advice.

You must love yourself before you can love someone else.

(Things just got deep.)

Meaning that companies must take care of their employees before their employees can take care of their customers. Today’s conscious consumers value openness and transparency; they buy more than a product—they buy a company’s mission, values, and culture. If employees don’t buy-in to your brand’s ethos, then ultimately, your customer won’t either. The best salesmanship won’t disguise insincerity. This is especially true for Customer Success who isn’t merely selling features and benefits, but a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship built upon achieved outcomes. The good news is that…

Good for the employee is good for business

In CMSWire’s article on building a people-centric culture, CX Journey Inc. Founder Annette Franz shares a quote from sales expert Zig Ziglar that shows how a people-first philosophy is your business growth strategy:

“You don’t build a business. You build people, and people build the business.”

To illustrate this, Franz points to the Service-Profit Chain, a concept proposed by the Harvard Business Review in the early nineties. The chain links employee satisfaction to customer loyalty and profitability, which drive business profit and growth. Franz explains, “As you can see, when you put employees first, they’ll do right by your customers—and the business benefits in the end.”

(Image Source: Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work, Harvard Business Review)


With major corporations facing increased scrutiny to take ownership of their societal impact, The Business Roundtable, a D.C.-based association of 181 CEOs from the largest U.S. companies, released a revised Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation in August 2019, which shifted the corporation’s role from “existing principally to serve shareholders” to “leading their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.”

HR Technologist expands on this redefinition:

“Moving shareholders down the list of priorities and putting employees higher on that list suggests a key development in corporate America: CEOs are beginning to realize the value of happier, more satisfied employees and their expectations from their companies.”

Amid this purpose-driven awakening, the term “human resources” is also slowly dissolving as practitioners move away from viewing employees as expendable resources—instead, focusing on them as people followed by their contribution to the organization.

The proof is in the putting (of employees first)

Companies with happy employees “outperform the competition by 20%” and “are 2.1% above industry benchmarks” according to research shared by Growth Everywhere. They also reported productivity benefits with studies showing that happy workers are 12% more productive and more likely to solve difficult problems faster.

Living out this truth, look no further than Virgin founder and employee crusader Sir Richard Branson. “By putting the employee first, the customer effectively comes first by default, and in the end the shareholder comes first by default as well,” explains Branson in Entrepreneur’s article on the mogul’s unconventional business approach that skyrocketed him to billionaire status, and soon, actual space.

There’s a smorgasbord of studies that overwhelmingly prove the multi-faceted benefits of investing in a people-first culture. So, let’s dive into the ways you can put this research into practice.

Transform an ancient platitude into a company-wide attitude

Going back to our elementary school days, we’ve all likely heard and recited various incantations around the Golden Rule and its principle of reciprocity. You know the one: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Its ubiquitous and rudimentary nature can make it easy to ignore, but it’s an empathic ethic that needs reviving in today’s, sometimes callous, corporate culture.

“96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention,” according to Forbes. Yet they found that “92% of employees feel empathy remains undervalued. Moreover, while 92% of CEOs feel their organization is empathetic, only 50% of their employees say their CEO is empathetic.”

All-in-one HR software provider Rise People notes the drawbacks of a workplace without empathy:

“When people don’t feel understood or cared for, they start to pull back, and thus, your team is not getting their best efforts.”

This is a real scare for companies since “84% of executives listed unengaged employees as one of the top 3 threats to their organizations,” as reported in a The Economist survey shared by Wrike. That’s because a lack of motivation has costly consequences for U.S. businesses to the tune of $450 to $550 billion per year, or 34% of a disengaged employee’s annual salary.

The bottom line for protecting your bottom line: Treat employees how you want to be treated throughout their tenure—from recruiting all the way through offboarding (including letting people go). Always respect them.

Celebrate little wins for big gains

Employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to quit in a year. Celebrate your employees’ small victories, even the ones that aren’t work-related, to build a culture of appreciation and success. The little, seemingly insignificant, acknowledgments add up along the way to build employee momentum and motivation while fostering a positive and supportive workplace.

At ChurnZero, we use Slack as a quick and easy way to share employee kudos and drive team engagement. For example, our Customer Success team posts a “Feel Good Friday” message (a weekly recognition roundup) to highlight individual successes across the team, such as hitting customer milestones or internal goals, overcoming obstacles (like saving an extremely at-risk customer), and receiving customer praise 🙌. As the team continues to grow, it keeps us connected on an individual-level and highlights the daily victories, that collectively overtime, empower us to reach those big (intimidating) goals.

Keep a running list of no- and low-cost ways for managers to show employees their appreciation like giving shout-out’s during a company-wide meeting, gift cards, extra PTO, or team outings. 

Prescribe to professional development and internal promotions

“According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, a whopping 93% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers,” reveals Forbes.

Working in Customer Success, we’re intimately familiar with the benefits of long-term retention. An example being that it’s 5x more expensive to acquire a new customer than it’s to retain an existing one. Replacing a churned employee incurs costs as well. For a high-earner, this cost can amount to 2x their annual salary.

With millennials’ growing notoriety as job-hoppers, its critical that companies figure out how to retain today’s largest employee base, which accounts for 35% of the global workforce. (Fun fact: by 2020, 41% of the global population will be 24 years old or younger. Feeling old yet?)

Professional development is a leading factor and attractor for millennials. Gallup research found that “Millennials fundamentally think about jobs as opportunities to learn and grow.” The study cited development opportunities as “one of the top three factors in retaining millennials and the only aspect of retention that separates millennials’ needs from those of non-millennials.”

Invest in your employees, so they invest in your company—a belief that Starbucks embodies. In 2014, the coffee corporation began offering full tuition coverage for eligible part- and full-time employees (who they refer to as “partners”) to earn their bachelor’s degree. The program’s goal is to have 25,000 Starbucks partners graduate by 2025. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz believed that “Treating employees benevolently shouldn’t be viewed as an added cost that cuts into profits, but as a powerful energizer that can grow the enterprise into something far greater than one leader could envision.”

You may also be surprised to learn that these household consumer brands also offer various forms of tuition assistance: Wal-Mart, Chipotle, McDonald’s, AT&T, Publix, Jet Blue, and Disney.

By offering employees training and development opportunities, you not only give them the tactical and strategic skills to do their job better, but also the confidence that you see them as valued investment. To retain legacy and product knowledge, encourage opportunities for growth within the organization, which in turn, give teams deeper expertise for solving customer issues.

Mingle over a meal

We’re all busy, and given the choice, many of us default to downing our food at our desk to keep working through our endless to-do list. “In fact, only one in three workers actually step away from their desk to take lunch,” says IMPACT. To encourage employee s to take breaks to recharge, refocus, and reconnect with one another, consider offering complimentary catered lunches. At ChurnZero, we provide free breakfast every Monday and free lunch every Friday to bring our (semi-remote) teams together and inspire cross-department conversation and collaboration—an essential element to Customer Success.

In Highfive’s article on the value of providing employee lunch, they share an interview conducted by Entrepreneur with workplace anthropologist Kevin Kuske, who explains that “When you’re trying to build trust, creativity and relationships, you want to bring barriers down and get people to start acting more neutrally and food is just a way to do that.”

Be flexible

Part of promoting a healthy work-life balance is giving employees the flexibility they need to take time for self-care and wellness. Buffer’s State of Remote Work study found that a flexible schedule is the biggest benefit to remote work. They recount its many upsides: “Walking the dogs instead of commuting, that mid-morning gym session, the freedom to catch up with friends and not having to schedule time off for appointments.” A flexible or remote schedule also reduces commute-related stress and aggression caused by being a cost-, time-, and all-around life-suck. “Longer commutes are systematically associated with lower rates of well-being,” according to Psychology Today. They result in “boredom, social isolation, anger, and frustration from problems like traffic or delays.” Companies that allow remote work experience 25% less employee turnover than companies that don’t, based on Owl Labs research.

Treat your employees how you treat your customers

Employees “buy” your company every day that they decide to continue working for you. You must nurture that relationship and provide the best experience to retain them as an employee. In Customer Success, we focus on keeping customers engaged and thriving to increase their product adoption and lifecycle progression; your employees are no different. Recognition, appreciation, empathy, and training are fundamental to encouraging employees to embrace your company, build their lifetime value, and become trusted advocates. Companies need to approach employee churn with the same tenacity they do for customer churn.

“You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed your employees’ expectations of management.”Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks

Appreciate your employees all day, every day

Building employee loyalty takes an unabated dedication to promoting their self-care, fulfillment, development, and recognition (monetarily and verbally). As we’ve said before, consistency is everything. Show gratitude to your employees year-round to truly make them feel valued and respected.

So, let’s celebrate employee appreciation today, and every day.

Customer Success Around the Web

  • Dust Off Your Customer Journey Mapping Program– Journey mapping gives you the sequence of customer experiences and the understating of inter-connectivity of experiences. 
  • Scaling with Digital Customer Success– One of the biggest challenges facing Customer Success leaders is how to effectively scale. Learn how to do that with digital CS strategies. 
  • Customer Success & the Coronavirus– Many CS professionals are not prepared to quickly adjust their operations and help their customers respond to emergencies, such as the current Coronavirus situation. Check out these resources to help. 


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