Customer First: Is It Always the Best Policy?

image of waiter holding tray with "customer first" written on card

Customer First: Is It Always the Best Policy?

In our article “Failing in Customer Service” clearly there are companies that put profit first. To heck with employees and customers. However, a customer first policy is not always best, even for the customer, when it is missing key components for success.

Losing the Big Picture

Sometimes companies focus so directly on customer centricity that they actually fail the customer. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s like looking so closely that the bigger picture is lost. Employees are part of that satisfied customer big picture.

If employees don’t have what they need, they often can’t get the customer what they need. It is a symbiotic relationship. Employee needs include training, tools, employee empowerment and supportive culture. 


When a customer has a problem, an employee can only solve it well if they know how. Throwing employees in the deep end to see if they can swim isn’t good for customers or business.  They need to be taught to tread water first, or at least be solid on company policies, systems, products, and history. 

Training is never a one and done activity either. On-going training helps agents perform at higher and higher levels. This gives them a sense of purpose and achievement while bringing their best to the company.

The one constant to count on is change. Prepare for it with training to smooth transitional bumps that come with new policies, software, trends and market changes. 


Speaking of new software, outdated, cumbersome tools create negative experiences for both customer and agent. Forcing agents to do a verbal tap dance with the customer while waiting for the system to load their information is a drag for both. It’s even worse forcing a customer to repeat their information and issue with each agent they speak to because that information isn’t available across channels and agents.

Easy access to information makes solving customer problems faster. A regularly updated database of effectively organized information that all agents and managers have access to is a powerful tool. 

Speaking of integration, the time it takes for an agent to log into and out of each piece of software separately is time that could be spent creating resolution. 

Employee Empowerment and Company Culture

Without a healthy business culture, customer centric policies don’t work. In his article “The Failures of Customer Centricity”, James Damian brings up a salient point about why customer first approaches fail. When businesses skip the development of solid company culture in favor of business strategy they miss the vital elements of successful customer centricity. 

A unified sense of purpose, direction and action from the top down creates change from a powerful base. Conversely, both customers and employees see through superficial catch phrases and words with no matching action behind them. This makes it harder to motivate and keep talent and sours B2C relationships. As Shep Hyken stated in his recent article on Forbes, “What’s happening on the inside of a company is felt on the outside by the customer.”

As usual, Nordstrom is a good example of effective top down culture. The trust they put in their employees has yielded some of the most positive customer service hero stories out there. 

The active participation of leadership is necessary for effective change. Though it requires planning and assessment, customer prioritization is an ongoing commitment not a short term project. Executives and managers need to consistently lead by example. This impacts the confidence of front line employees. In turn, empowering these employees from a place of solid training, support and trust encourages them to excel in providing successful customer first policy.