Customer service experts have been chanting variations of this mantra since one caveman paid another caveman three clamshells for the skin of a sabertooth tiger. Okay, as far as we know cavemen didn’t chant mantras, but you get my point. The vast majority of customer service strategies use the idea of making your customer your top priority as their cornerstone.

The key to running a successful operation is believing and practicing the concept that customers should always come second—employees matter more in the immediate sense and should therefore come first.

Ironically, customer service levels are declining as competition for customer loyalty is increasing. In this age of chain expansion, a customer can find your services duplicated or your products cheaper on the next block. The one way you can differentiate yourself in a sea of similar competition is by offering a world-class customer service experience. This will never happen if you use the same stale, outdated, failed approach to customer service that you and your competitors have always used before. Namely, the “making the customer number one” approach.

The business world needs a makeover. A new perspective. A fresh approach that I like to call “Fresh Customer Service.” Fresh Customer Service demystifies the process of attracting loyal, happy customers who return again and again and recommend your business to their friends and families. This type of customer reaction, what some may consider as a minor detail, can actually tip the scales and prove the difference between a prosperous organization and a bankrupt organization. So what’s the secret? The Frontline Employee.

This idea is the key to unlocking sustained long-term success in whatever area of service or production your organization offers. Throughout your organization’s entire process of selling, serving, marketing, cleaning—you name it—the only way you can hope to deliver a World-Class customer service experience is by listening to, equipping, empowering, involving, and valuing the feedback and expertise your Frontline Employees can offer.

I know, I know, the struggle to turn just-any-old customer into a loyal customer is unyielding, and the burden of competition is so stiff you don’t have time to think about what Mary Jo at the cash register and Frank the Janitor have to say about things. But these are the exact people to whom you need to listen and show your appreciation. The associate on the floor who explains why this appliance is better than that one, who offers to help carry grocery bags, who tidies up the restrooms, etc. Remember this important business fact:

The employee is number one, not the customer. The customer is number two.

After all, happy employees unleash their enthusiasm and passion from within, and that passion is contagious. And happy employees naturally provide superior customer service. They smile. I’ve learned ways to make employees happy, and I’ve listed some of the best below.

  • · Thank your employees every day. Thank them for going above and beyond their job descriptions. And why not thank them for doing what they’re supposed to be doing? It sure can’t hurt anyone.
  • · Treat each employee with the utmost trust, honesty, respect, integrity, and commitment to his or her well-being. The Frontline Employee is the most important asset, resource and ally to an organization’s operations. He (or she) and his (or her) quest to deliver a World-Class customer service experience are paramount.
  • · Seek to maximize the talent of each employee and work to enhance his or her quality of life.
  • · Value diversity among your staff and work to fulfill their personal aspirations. Only then will the employee be more apt to pour his or her heart into providing a World-Class customer service experience and delivering the goals and objectives of the organization.
  • · All employees should have the right to be involved in the planning of the work affecting them. In addition to providing a World-Class customer service experience to the customers, you want to ensure that the Frontline Employee is an ambassador for the organization.

The company’s priorities and values need to be crystal clear in the minds of all employees. Forcing them to work in ambiguous uncertain “gray areas” of operation is like blindfolding the average person and asking her to walk a tightrope. It’s simply a recipe for disaster. Remember that if you first take care of your employees, they will take care of the customers, and the bottom line will take care of itself.