Who Comes First In Your Business?

For years I led my team with a very customer oriented philosophy. Which, by the way, is not a bad idea. I had a say, “The customer is always first. If there’s something wrong with you (team member), then you become first!”

Not a bad way to look at a business. Take care of the people who pay for you, so that you can take care of the people that work for you.

Over the last few years, I changed the way I look at that. I’ve come to realize that it is way more important to take care of the people who take care of you. When you focus on your team, an amazing thing happens…they take care of your customer.

Dan Cathy, President and COO of Chick-fil-A says that his customer is the 60,000 people who work for the company. Not the person who actually buys the products. That’s why they have the best team members working in the stores who are always ready to take care of you, the consumer.

Having taught leadership for so many years, I understand that this concept is one that most people aren’t used to. How do I know that? It’s something I’ve learned after spending countless hours counseling leaders and owners of all different types of businesses.

Why is this such a common theme? Because, for the most part, we’ve all learned how to lead from those who lead us. If they didn’t take care of their team members, it’s really hard for us to focus on it.

In EntreLeadership Performance Series I share a story of when I asked one of my team members what she thought about how much I focus on taking care of my team members. She quickly responded with –

You spend time with your team, so to us

  • You’re a good leader
  • It affects our work
  • You guide us
  • We are loyal to you
  • Because we know you care

I have to say, I was stunned. In fact, I took the opportunity to write down what she said right then. Needless to say, it’s never left my memory. That’s why so many leaders get to hear it when I’m teaching.

Take care of your team, and they will not only take care of you, but your customer as well.

Question: Is it to you that your team members come first? 



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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

37 thoughts on “Who Comes First In Your Business?”

  1. I agree. I think this works best when you make sure you have the right team in place first. Then, your intent and delivery must be genuine and not manipulative.

    It’s easy for people to shift from appreciating you serving them to expecting you to serve them. Is it bad that people expect to be served? No. I want my team to expect that out of me.

    I just don’t want their expectations to turn to entitlement.

    That which we feel entitled to we never have gratitude for.

    Having the right people, the correct delivery system and not keeping your service fair are the keys to this.

    That’s right…not keeping your service fair.

    I love the lesson from Andy Stanley on Do for one what you wish you could do for all. Fight the urge, “If I do this for one person, I’ll have to do it for everyone.” When everyone is getting the exact same thing in regard to appreciation….that’s when it creeps into an expectation and then from expectation to entitlement.

    1. For sure Eric. We as consumers can easily can sniff out fake customer service. Having the right people on the right set is very important.

      I’m a huge fan of Andy’s Do for one attitude! I’ve placed that in effect two years ago and I have seen great things happen. But my summer staff team knew that’s how I thought as well.

      1. Nice running into another camping professional on here.

        My summer staff have really taken to do for one. And they absolutely love our new strict No Gossip policy we picked up from Entreleadership.

        I know a lot my staff will take these lessons into their future careers and businesses. Camp, it’s more than just for campers.

        1. Yea no kidding, its like we are in the roles of teaching young adults how to work. It’s a great role, I never expected to play but I love it!

          1. Yes. How to work and how to lead. It amazes me every year the “work” ethic of the young adults that apply for work at camp.

            Have fun at NW CCCA….that’s a bit out of our way from Ohio. I always enjoy the CCCA events though.

  2. Yes. And, I had to think about that for a moment. Because, when we are really going, it feels like it is 100% about the client. But, I “get going” when the team is on board and in agreement.

  3. When I was still in school I worked at a grocery store for four years, and their mantra was, “the customer is always right.” Wrong. The concept does jump-start a great customer service attitude throughout the company. But, it can throw the employees under the bus. It was very dependent on the shift manager… was he going to let the customer treat his employees like crap, and point to the company motto? Or was he going to respectfully not allow the customer to treat his employees like crap and still take care of their needs, unless they got too out of hand?
    One evening I was cashiering and when I asked the customer if he found everything he was looking for, he blew up at me. He started waving his hands and yelling at me because we didn’t carry this ice cream I had never heard of. Side notes: this grocery store was located in a town of about 12,000, I had nothing to do with ordering product, and most of the time people mistook me as a 14 or 15 year old. This guy definitely had issues. I tried to explain to him we weren’t able to carry every brand, but if he would like, our store made it a point to order something a customer specifically asks for. That did not calm him down. Shift manager came over from across the store, because of all the yelling. Was this customer in the right? Noooooooo. All over a specific kind of ice cream I have never heard of. Riiiiiiight.

    Love your posts about leadership in business, Chris 🙂

  4. If a customer is someone you want to win, please, or retain, than it does not matter if they are right or wrong. What does matter is your attitude, and your attitude won’t change by repeating a silly phrase like the “customer is right.”

    And that is how you can sum up what Chris was told: “you’re a good leader …. because we know you care.” Any leader that constantly repeats to his- or her-self that “my team comes first” is shallow if the phrase is not reflected by their attitude.

  5. It really is a simple concept once you take the moment to grasp it. “Our” primary focus as a group is on our customers. But as a leader/ manager my primary focus needs to be on taking care of those who I lead. This puts them in a place to succeed.
    Another great post.

  6. Agreed. And a customer who’s abusing anyone who works for me isn’t a customer I want to do business with any longer. Regardless of their size, prestige, or impact.

  7. I thought I came first?

    That didn’t work out so well.

    As far as who comes first, I call it customer service math.

    If I put the customer first in my mind, one person is guaranteed to be happy and productive enough to put them first. If I interact with the customer, they get great service.

    When I had twelve team members, they had a 1/13 chance of getting great service.

    If I put the twelve people on my team first, when they interact with a customer, I have a 13/13 (100%) chance of the customer getting great service.

    It’s so cliche in a way, but happy team members treat people well. Happy team members give great service.

  8. A few years ago, I was promoted to manage a bank branch of of 15 people! Before I got there the branch had underperformed, the employees hated work, and it was a difficult situation.

    When I started managing the team…I made sure they came first! I sat down with each of them to see what we could do to improve the branch and what I could I do to help them reach their goals. To make a long story short…over the next two years we were the #1 branch in the entire country (there were over 1,200 branches nation wide), we had the most deposit growth, and three team members got promoted.

    I agree..put the team members first and everything else follows.

  9. Such a great point Chris! Some time back I wrote a post about the phrase “The Customer is Always Right” and how that is not necessarily true.
    We’ve been so brainwashed in this society that all that matters is making the customer happy that we forget just what you said, your team should be first, THEN they will take care of the customer.
    We had an experience at work that was a great example of putting the team first. A guy had applied with us and, to spare the details, had been a complete pain for 3 weeks (we placed him in a job after being hounded for a week, then he called and said he got another job and left us hanging 2 hours before he was to start). Anyway, because of this, the recruiter told him that we would not have any work for him because of the several decisions he had made that had put us in a tight spot.
    A week later, he called wanting to talk to the Area Manager. He asked the area manager to overturn the recruiter’s decision and force her to place him in a job.
    Luckily, our boss is great and doesnt blindly subscribe to “the customer is always right”. He put his team first and told the guy that he would back up his recruiter’s decision. He actually said to the guy “So you are wanting me to overturn the decision of my recruiter?” haha.
    Anyway, because of how he handled that situation, and several like it, our boss has our respect, and we are more capable of doing our job because we know that he has our back and won’t sell us down the river if a customer jumps up and down a bit.
    Great post, thanks Chris!

    1. Man I’m right there with you. Some time ago I had a landscaping business, with schooling behind it and lots of experience from working with other landscaping businesses. But when I went on my own, quickly I learned the costumer was not always right and I don’t mean that in a “foot stomping give me what I need or I will Ieave” attitude. But it was they didn’t have enough big vision or got the wrong info and thought it would look great for them.

      For example, with my business I did two things and the rest I subed out, I did natural looking water features and brick pavers walks ways. Most of the time when I met with my clients to hear their dreams about a water feature, they would show me the lowest spot in their yard supper far way from their house. That picture was in their head because their friends had that or seen that set up in a do-it-your self magazine.From there I learn how to dialog and educate them on how that those options are the biggest mistake you can do. From that My business slogan was born, “PateScapes and Designs Where I’m hear to serve your outdoor dreams”.

  10. I’m glad you posted this, next month I’ll be leading a forum at a conference for Christian camping for maintenance folks and the main topic is, “who your customer?” In hopes to show them their first customer is the other support staff and guest groups. It’s easy in the maintenance realm to be trapped in your own little bubble with all the tasks that need to get done. I’m defiantly going to use this blog! Thanks Chris.

  11. I kind of look at it more from a perspective as God, who is my chief partner comes first. Then myself. And that’s not to be selfish, but if I don’t be the best me then it’s not possible for me to put my team first and to help them succeed. We teach what we know, but we produce what we are as John Maxwell says. Or as even Dave says the anointing falls on the head (Christ) to the beard (the leader or leaders) down to the body (my team) and flows out to the nations (the customers). So their is a natural order of how it all flows for the benefit of everybody. That’s just me. If I am a liar, then trying to be “honest” to team members will just make them dishonest to the customers.

  12. This one hits home for me Chris. I’m a solo-preneur, and I actually focused much more last year on trying to take better care of my employee (me).

    Don’t laugh, it’s true! I work really hard, and last year I managed my time better in an effort to take some breaks to relieve some stress. Nothing major… eating lunch at home with my wife and daughter, take occasional breaks just to sit and read… that kind of thing.

    Guess what… it made me even more productive. Last year was my best yet. Bring on 2013!

    –Tony Gnau

  13. The best boss I ever had backed me up when a nasty customer bullied me. Mr. Nasty wanted me to sell him some mugs from the restaurant, and I told him I couldn’t because we then wouldn’t have enough to serve our customers. (We were in a remote location and getting supplies was not easy.) He argued and argued and bullied and insisted. I finally got him to leave his phone # so we could order some for him. When I told my manager about it, he tore the phone # up, tossed it, and said, “We don’t do business with creeps. Are you okay?”


  14. I’m with you Chris. It’s important that your team knows that they’re you’re customer and they’re valuable to you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked for someone where it felt like I was the least important person there.

    The impact it had on my work, ashamedly, was dramatic. There’d be less productivity done. There’d be goofing off. There’d be less care on my part.

    The worst part was you could see the customer was proclaimed as important. Only to see the management team taking care of each other.

  15. I love how you explain that a leader needs to take care of the team so the team can take care of the customer. If the leader doesn’t care about the team, the team will definitely not care about the customer. Serving your customer (internal or external) definitely does not mean that you will be their doormat. You must serve, guide and train your team and your clients. However, if your values and theirs don’t line up and you’re not the right person to provide what they need, you can feel comfortable setting them free.

  16. Exactly what I needed to read today – thank you Chris! So true, the more you care for your team, the more they’ll care for you and your business.

    Jesus is totally right: do to others, what you want them to do to you. Profound.

  17. This is an awesome point, Chris! I have seen this truth, but mostly from the opposite/negative standpoint. The team members are treated like third class citizens while there’s a focus on the customer. This demoralizes the team and no one is satisfied!

  18. When you focus on your team members, making sure they have the right tools, training, support and encouragement – then that translates to a better attitude toward the customer. If they feel like they are constantly struggling, lacking what they need and feeling unappreciated, that totally comes out in grumbling and bad attitudes to the customer. Great post and great reminder!

  19. Chris! This philosophy is now followed in many corporations around the world. For example, in India, HCL is one of the leading IT company. It has spread its wings across many nations. That company’s one of the core values is ~ “Employees First”. By practicing this concept, this IT company has been able to arrest the attrition among their employees and thereby able to retain their talent far better than their peers. This gave them an added advantage in productivity in the long run.

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