The Customer Comes Last

The Customer Comes Last

I left off a Post a while back with this:

I would argue that not only is there more to hospitality than your customer facing efforts, I would also argue that, of the people to whom you want to offer outstanding hospitality and service, your customers should be the last in line. But that’s a topic for another time.

You can read the rest of that Post, “Internal and External Hospitality,” here.

Let’s talk about serving your customers last – what I mean, what my argument is, and why there are are least two groups who should come before your customers in terms of hospitality.

If you haven’t been following my blog closely (I totally understand), let me catch you up on a two of the concepts I’ve been writing about:

Service and hospitality are different things – service is what happens when a customer interacts directly with someone who works for your company. Hospitality is the umbrella category for everything else that you and your company do to impact the way your customer feels about your company. The guy at the front desk at a hotel is providing service. A dirty elevator is detracting from the hospitality.

Internal and External Hospitality – Hospitality isn’t just something you provide for your customers – your internal culture, the way things work at your company, can also be seen through the lens of hospitality. External is what your customers see, internal is what your colleagues see.

Let me start with my conclusion – then we can work backwards.

In terms of hospitality, the best way to create value for your customers is to rank others above them.

I’m clearly taking aim at the old yarn ‘The Customer is always right,’ or ‘The Customer comes first,’ or one of a hundred other clichés. That’s nonsense. It’s the product of simple thinking, and in an ironic twist, your customers are actually worse off if you fail to rank some other folks ahead of them in your thinking.

Broadly, there are three cohorts in our equation – you and your colleagues, your company’s vendors, and your customers. This order is intentional – I would argue that is also the order that you should think about serving (and providing hospitality to) these groups.

There has been so much written about company culture, why it’s important, why is has to be attended to intentionally – we can very easily see the difference between a good culture and a bad one using our lens of hospitality, right? Working in a place where employees care for one another, support one another, and work to help one another is clearly more hospitable and a better place to work than the opposite.

Providing hospitality internally, to your colleagues, does not always cause tension with providing hospitality or service to your vendors or customers – but when it does, you should always, always put your colleagues first. If you have built a great team, of motivated, well-intentioned individuals, maintaining that positive culture internally is far more important than pleasing a single customer. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary to fire a customer to maintain that internal hospitality. The rest of your customers will be better off, enjoying the fruits of a happy, supportive workplace where employees aren’t afraid that missteps with customers will cost them their jobs.

Providing hospitality to your vendors – especially in a tech or food service environment – is absolutely more important than to individual customers. Yes, the guy delivering your produce should be given preferential treatment. Yes, the folks who keep your servers maintained should have their emails read first. They literally keep the lights on. Maintaining those personal and business relationships is key to ensuring a steady flow of resources that you can then turn into customer value.

If your end goal is to delight your customers, to create the most value for them and to instill in them loyalty and pride, you cannot put them first. You have to put them last – and in doing so, you’ll improve their lives far more than if you place them above your colleagues and your vendors.

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