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Why your customers can never be happier than your staff

Written by Gary Turner on Wednesday, 21 July 2021. Posted in Insight, Analysis

When building a customer-focused business, it's easy to forget the happiness of staff. Because of the eagle-like focus on the customer, the employee can often get overlooked.

Why your customers can never be happier than your staff

When building a customer-focused business, it's easy to forget the happiness of staff. Because of the eagle-like focus on the customer, the employee can often get overlooked. But, if unhappy staff aren't doing their best work, this infiltrates and harms customer experience. Simply put, this boils down to the simple notion that your customers can never be happier than your staff. So, it makes sense to consider your business's internal culture as part of maintaining customer service.  

I wish I'd known long ago that leadership isn't about being the smartest or most experienced, rather it’s about being relentless and determined in pursuit of the right answers and best outcomes from the team. That means taking inspiration, whoever and wherever it comes from, and guiding the team to do their best work without fear of failure or retribution.

Here are some lessons I've learned on how to do that.

Leadership is about relationships

Great leaders are connected to their teams and demonstrate openness, vulnerability and a willingness to listen. Even the best leader is just one person, so it's important to gather a range of inputs and contributions. Creating an environment where everyone's ideas are welcome and where collaboration is encouraged is the key to creating an output that is more than the sum of the individual team members. 

This starts with establishing a human connection, whether through a safe one-on-one meeting or video call. These conversations are more about creating a sense of ease and familiarity than about business, so make sure they're in the right frame of mind. Some people may prefer to talk by phone instead of a video call, or introduce themselves in person instead of by email, so be flexible about your format. 

Remain positive

Working with a team can be stressful and involve disagreements, so it's important to maintain a positive attitude – although it's often easier said than done. The team looks to its leader for direction, and if you can stay calm and positive, it will put everyone else at ease. Although it's hard to quantify, this internal positivity comes through to the customer – you can always tell when someone loves their job. 

Look after yourself

Leadership can be challenging, unforgiving and lonely. Sometimes, you'll have to make decisions you'd rather not make, and there won't be anybody to reassure you that you're doing the right thing. All of that can take a real toll, so it's important to remain resilient and optimistic, no matter how bleak things may feel. If possible, I would also recommend finding a coach outside the business, someone you can regularly connect with, bounce ideas off, privately share your frustrations and concerns and help you find the pathway.

Practically speaking, I have found that working flexible hours can also  make a big difference, as does pausing and taking regular breaks from your screen. Pace yourself – there's probably a lot of work to do, but overworking yourself and your team won't help in the long run. It's also worth reminding yourself of why you're doing what you're doing every now and again so that you maintain a sense of purpose. 

Accept that leadership is a tough job, and you can't please everyone. As Steve Jobs used to say, "if you want to make everyone happy, don't be a leader – sell ice cream." This isn't to suggest that happiness doesn't matter and that it's acceptable to act like a heartless monster, only that it's a big and complex world and some upset is inevitable. 

Maintain confidence in your decisions without becoming inflexible and unpersuadable. As long as you make decisions that you genuinely feel are the best you can make, that's all you can offer. 

About the Author

Gary Turner

Gary Turner

Gary Turner is co-founder and managing director at Xero UK and is responsible for Xero's business operations across Europe, Middle East & Africa. Under Gary's leadership, Xero UK has scaled from a three-person startup with annual sales of £50k in 2009 to revenues of £110m in 2020.

A visionary on SaaS and technology, Gary is renowned for his trend spotting. He’s loved tech since he started coding on a BBC micro computer in his parents’ attic in the 80s. Gary is also passionate about small business, being an active investor in startups with a passion for building better businesses.

A 25-year veteran of the UK’s software industry, Gary joined Xero shortly after its UK launch in 2009. A native of Glasgow, Scotland, he has previously held senior positions at Microsoft, Systems Union and Pegasus Software. He's an engaging speaker, writer and thought-leader on startups, digital transformation and leadership inside hyper-growth organisations. Gary has also served as a mentor to early-stage fintech startups at TechStars London.

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