Do you know who you really work for?

BossI was fortunate early in my career to work in the hospitality industry, and the leadership at Hyatt Hotels was quick to make sure that each new employee understood who paid their salary. Like most newbies, I assumed that whoever signed my paycheck was “the boss”, at least until I was told differently. Boy, was I wrong!

Regardless of how we may choose to phrase it, the one undeniable principle for any business is that we all work for the customer. That seems like a trite and simplistic approach, but it is one thing that some employees never quite get. And that’s a tragedy.

More than a motto or mission statement, a complete customer focus is simply the most logical way to a successful business, especially startups. Try it from any angle you like. Where does the money come from that pays our employees? Our customers. What happens if our customers no longer use us? We’re out of business – pretty simple but powerful concept. If I work to please my boss, but not my customer, that’s a recipe for disaster. Let’s face it – customers are the source of any company’s revenue; as managers, we are then responsible for making sure that money pays for the resources necessary to provide the products and services our customers demand.

I’m no clairvoyant fortune-teller, but I submit that often I can tell whether a company is well run and with a customer focus in just a few minutes in two important ways. First, it’s all about the greeting. If I am greeted warmly, with smiles and eye contact, that’s a great start. But, for me at least, it’s how employees react to a simple special request. If the response is positive and immediate, that’s the sign of good management and a customer-centric focus. If the response is “I’ll need to see if they can do that”, we’re in trouble. If the response is “I’m sure we can do that”, it’s obvious that management has made it clear that we are all on the same team and focused on the people we really work for – the customers.

Personally, I’ve never subscribed to that “customer is always right” tagline. Who makes this crap up? More than simply demanding, sometimes our customers disappoint. Customers can be arrogant, abusive, drunk, malicious, dishonest – I could go on. But most customers are not in any of those categories. Most want what we would want and treat us as they would want to be treated. Or in the words of my friend Horst Schulze, former President of Ritz Carlton, as he more eloquently describes it: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

Once you know who really pays your salary, you can focus on making sure your real boss is happy.

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