Customers or Employees: Which Comes First?

Chicken Nuggets or Egg McMuffins? Customers or employees? Which comes first? Does it matter?

I was intrigued by an Wall Street Journal article revealing McDonald’s efforts to fix customer service. Much conversation about customers. Little about employees. I felt compelled to respond, in an article I published Friday on Lead Change Group, Dear McDonald’s It’s Not About the Burgers (or even the yogurt).

A Letter to McDonald’s

Dear McDonald’s,

I know you’re frustrated that your internal presentation on fixing customer service was leaked to the press. That stinks. You can recover. At least we know you are trying to fix it. We’d all like a bit more happy with our meals.

5 suggestions (read more on by clicking here)

I tweeted the article to McDonald’s and was impressed with their response.

@letsgrowleaders Thanks. Input from our customers is a gift. We’re trying to improve and grow every day. ^JH

That’s promising.

Customers or Employees?

And so I’ve been asking this question in my circles.
“Employees come first! Companies need a GREAT product to attract and maintain customers, so what better product than great employees!!!”

“Customers come first. Always. Forever. Developing a team and investing in employees is all part of that “selfless service” spirit.”

“Happy people create happy people, experiences, and outcomes.”

“Customers are first because if we take care of them, we will see the benefits, and in turn create happy employees”

“As an employee I should be focused on our customers. As a supervisor, my focus in on the employee. My outward focus should trickle down the line.”

“First start with a dynamic, well-trained, well compensated empowered and respected work force.”

“If we all focused on meeting and exceeding each other’s needs as people first, the same will pass on to our customers.”

“People first” is all that matters.”

“View our employees as customers.”

I choose employees. Engaged, confident happy employees create magical customer experiences. Ignore the employees, your customers will leave.

What advice would you give McDonald’s (or other companies facing similar challenges?

Posted in Results & Execution and tagged , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Depends on position and perspective.

    As a leader, I make our customers first by making our team first. I equip our team with the tools to serve with excellence and treat them so they…thanks to this blog…want to “skip to work”. The key to success is never stop talking positively about the customer as individuals with hopes and dreams, desires and goals.

    I want my team to set the customer first by making themselves and their coworkers first. I can’t make my team healthy or give them the drive to be great at serving our customers. Only they can do that. The key, when a customer is on the grounds…they are the only people in the universe, treat them that way.

    As a customer, I want to be first. I can’t stand dealing with employees that feel they are entitled to my business and to their jobs. Apathy in customer service kills my experience.

    • Eric, I love how you break that down. Beautiful. As a customer, I want to be first too. How we ensure all customers feel that way involves all your outline here. Thank you.

  2. Respect comes first. Here’s where it gets tricky; we have anointed personhood to corporations, but they cannot have self respect in the sense of personal self respect. But let`s say then that it starts with the board/owners. To have self-respect that is meaningful one must treat others with respect. For owner leaders to have self-respect in the ethical sense they would have to hold no one in contempt neither the employee or customer. So, I guess what I am saying is that the answer starts with a chain of respect.

  3. Great post and letter Karin. I am in the “put people first” camp. It covers both customers and employees, and serves in contrast to a focus on the numbers.

  4. The company puts the employees first and the employees put the customer first. The employees tell the company what they (employees) need, based on interactin with customers, and company makes it available to employees.
    Companies give bad customer service because the customer service decisions are made by people far removed (physically and in time) from the customer. On the other hand, employees may be too close to the customers to see goals of company objectively.
    Finally, too few companies (read: upper mgmt) trust their employees to make suggestions that improve the company’s situation not just the dmployee’s situation.
    For this case: McDonlds has the worlds largest marketing survey walking through their doors every day. Ask them. Ask the counter people and the assistant managers.

    • RIck, what a great addition… McDonald’s sure does have a fantastic marketing survey walking through their doors each day. They need to prepared to act on what they hear.

  5. Every business has employees before customers. If you get and retain great people they will create great products which attract and retain customers.

    Also, freely publish your training packs showing how you treat your customers. Expect your customers to hold you to it. Only hire people who would automatically treat customers that way regardless of the manual. Ie the manual is marketing not training.

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