“Clients do not come first, employees come first. If you take care of the employees, they will take care of the clients.” – Richard Branson

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and a global business magnate, is known for a lot of things. 

Among them: his successful approach to employer branding. What Branson understands — and what so many business owners do not, unfortunately — is that happy customers don’t happen without happy employees. If you want your customers to have the best experience possible, start with providing the same to your workforce.

Branson gave his famous quote nearly three decades ago, long before the concept of employer branding became a major focus of companies, and certainly long before things like social media and job review sites made it easy for employees to benchmark their experiences against their peers. And while he certainly brings a lot more to the table than just his approach to the employer brand, there’s no doubt that by prioritising the employee experience Branson gave himself a major competitive advantage.

The Customer Isn’t Always Right

From our very first jobs, most of us get it drilled into our minds that the customer is always right. It’s what we’re told by our superiors, and what we’ve long understood to be a basic tenet of providing good service.

In practice, though? It doesn’t take long to discover that the customer certainly isn’t always right, and that providing service as if they are can lead to inefficiencies, burnout, and resentment. 

What Branson first suggested — and what we’ve now come to realise — is that it’s the employee’s job to know the ins-and-outs of the product or service, as well as the way that business is done. And when you prioritise and incentivise their engagement, you get employees who are driven to guide customers in the right direction, even if it means (gently) correcting them when they get it wrong.

Putting Employees First

As with all things related to employer branding, employee satisfaction and employee engagement aren’t something you can just talk about — you actually have to put policies into place that make them a reality. Maybe this means offering better benefits, or putting a higher priority on offering your employees a better work-life balance. Perhaps it means providing employees with more opportunities for academic and technical training, or investing in more effective team building strategies. Most likely, it’s a combination of all of these things, plus a whole lot more.

The key here is realising that employees and customers aren’t mutually exclusive groups in terms of your company’s success. Just as happier employees lead to happier customers, the reverse is true too. 

It’s reductive to think that you can have one without the other, and also a clear path to dissatisfaction among at least one of these groups. And when you look at it that way, it becomes very hard to justify offering your workforce anything but the most optimal environment that you can.

Where to Start

Any effort toward employee satisfaction and engagement is an effort worth making. If you’re just getting off the ground with employer branding, start by defining your employee proposition value (EVP). This is a statement of exactly what benefits and perks employees can expect when they work for you, including everything from vacation day policies to internal structures that ensure employees have what they need to do their best work day in and day out.

Another good step here is to communicate with employees directly to discover areas where they might be less than satisfied — then take actionable steps to offer improvements. By putting employees first, you create a system that naturally provides better service to your customers. And while we can’t all be the next Richard Branson, we can at least follow a similar path to long-term success.

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