Happy Employees Create Happy Customers by Stan Phelps

Happy Employees Create Happy Customers

I recently completed a quest. I had set out to find 1,001 purple goldfish. Examples of companies that strive to exceed customer expectations via a sticky concept called g.l.u.e (giving little unexpected extras). Signature extras that help win customers and influence word of mouth.

Who is more important . . . employees or customers?

This is a great chicken and egg question with regard to leadership. Which comes first? What became clear during my research is that brands who understand the concept of lagniappe for customers, also embrace the concept with employees. Both are equally important. Taking care of employees and investing into the “little extras” for staff help build a dynamic culture. Here is a great quote by Vince Burks of Amica Insurance reinforcing this focus.

At Amica Insurance – the concept of lagniappe is not just a part of our brand ethos; it is ingrained in everything we do. It therefore extends to our most valued resource – our employees. In fact, that is the secret to our success.

Excellent benefits. Advancement opportunities. The latest technology. A real work/life balance. And an open and regular line of communication with each other and with senior management. Taken together, we give our employees all that they need to succeed … and more.

This is absolutely essential. Satisfied employees lead to satisfied customers. Long term employees lead to long term relationships with customers. And pride, trust, and morale are all contagious.

Further, well-trained, long-term employees know how to get the job done quickly, efficiently, and effectively. They know their customers. They know their colleagues. They know their company. And they therefore know how to “get to yes” with ease and a sense of grace.

This is good for the customer. This is good for the company.

green goldfish project

This post will officially start my next quest. I’m going to actively crowd source 1,001 examples of green goldfish. Why green for employees? First and foremost, green is one of the three colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green and gold). New Orleans is the birthplace of lagniappe, the overarching concept for providing “little extras.” The second reason deals with money. It’s well documented that financial compensation is not a strong long term motivator. The Project will explore the little things that can make the big difference in establishing culture.

Similar to the Purple Goldfish, it is my belief that employee lagniappe provides the following three benefits:

  1. Differentiation – a way to stand out in a sea of sameness. Give the company a remark-able difference or set of signature differences.
  2. Retention – keep employees happy and they’ll stick around longer.
  3. Word of Mouth – create a culture that attracts talent. Become a desired place to work and you’ll get more A players.

How about helping me with an example or three? Here are a few thought starters to get you going:

Google“20 percent time program”. According to Jonathan Strickland in ‘HowStuffWorks: How the Googleplex Works’, the company allows its employees to use up to 20 percent of their work week at Google to pursue special projects. That means for every standard work week, employees can take a full day to work on a project unrelated to their normal workload. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 percent time program.

Zappos -“The Offer” The offer is part of the four week new hire paid training. The training immerses the group into the culture and Zappos’ laser focus on customer service. At the conclusion of training, everyone is offered $3,000 to leave. According to Fast Company Co-Founder Bill Taylor, “It’s a small practice with big implications: Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers–people do. If you want to create a memorable company, you have to fill your company with memorable people. How are you making sure that you’re filling your organization with the right people? And how much are you willing to pay to find out?” In case you’re keeping score at home, roughly 2-3% of trainees have taken the offer since it was rolled out.

Reebok “Thinking inside the Box” – Some organizations have a company gym. Other may subsidize or pay for gym fees. Reebok took this to the next level in 2010 by converting a brick warehouse at Reebok’s headquarters into an employee exclusive CrossFit “box’’ or workout center, with six coaches and extensive equipment. About 425 employees at Reebok are taking part in Canton. This benefit reinforces the company’s new mission: to get consumers moving. Participants lost over 4,000 pounds collectively during 2011.

Please leave your example in the comments or e-mail me at stan [at] 9inchmarketing.com. Help me catch a 1,001 green goldfish.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is Chief Solutions Officer at Synergy Events. Synergy is an award winning experiential marketing agency specializing in the creation of signature brand experiences. Stan believes the ‘longest and hardest nine inches’ in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is fascinated by the concept of lagniappe and is the author of ‘What’s Your Purple Goldfish? How to Win Customers and Influence Word of Mouth’

Stan Phelps is the founder of 9 INCH marketing, a consultancy that helps brands obtain customers that are four times as valuable as ordinary customers through the Goldfish Rule. He works with senior leaders to focus on meaningful differentiation to win the hearts of both employees and customers. Driven by client objectives and inspired by bold vision, Stan creates custom keynotes, workshops, and programs that are memorable and on brand, inspiring businesses to become talk-able by design.

  • I want to play your game of catching 1,001 Green Goldfish fairly. So, I have a question: must the perks be small ones to remain consistent with ” little extras)? Or, can the perks be so outlandish that no company would ever replicate them?

  • Thanks Brittany. Size doesn’t matter. Big ticket added value is great, but I believe small things can make a big difference. Only requirement is that the example is an actual case and not a hypothetical.

  • “Happy employees won’t necessarily create happy customers! Accountable employees do.”

    My recent experience with Apple Store confirms this.
    That Genius is definitely very happy with how he’s being treated in Apple.
    Cool employer brand. Cool benefits and perks. Cool status!
    But he is so happy that he forgets to align his own personal value with Apple’s brand promise.
    So when he comes to interact with customer, he treats every customer as his customer, but not Apple’s!
    And that’s a serious problem!
    I am Apple’s fan, but not his!

    He’s happy; I am definitely not.
    But he won’t be happy forever…
    I filed complaints against that Genius.
    His manager called me several times to apologize.
    And I believe that Genius will be sorry for being too happy.

    Surfing the experience WAVE

  • Daryl,
    Good point. There is a fine line between empowerment and accountability.
    However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t think you are advocating for unhappy employees. As a general rule I would want employees to take ownership of the customer interaction. I lean toward a Nordstrom approach of “allowing employees to use best judgment in all situations.”

  • There is NO question that happy employees, well-compensated employees, will result in happy customers. This is not a chicken or egg question. It all begins with the culture of the company!

  • @Stan: Definitely. Firm should never create unhappy employees.

    @Bruce: Not true. Happy employees may create happy customers, but it’s not guaranteed. The focus should not be on “happiness” alone. Instead, firm should provide a platform for employees to “take ownership of the interaction,” as suggested by Stan.

  • On second thought, happy employee only means that employee is happy. It does not mean that the happy employee will perform. There is still chance that happy employee will upset customer, as in my case. Happy customer is not a product of happy employee. Instead, happy employee is only one of the many ways to create happy customer.

  • Hey Stan,

    It’s great to hear there is more to come! I followed the progress of the Purple Goldfish project closely and am starting in on the book this weekend. As for the Green Goldfish project, I think I have one for you…

    My close friend told me about her friend’s first week working at Oprah’s magazine. In addition to being an awesome gig, she got a $10,000 check and an iPad on her second day there. I first assumed that it was a good sign on bonus; however, she explained that it was not. Rather, it was just incredible timing; it was a onetime thank you gift Oprah gave to all the staff despite how long they have been with the company.

    This story makes me wonder about a few things:
    – TIMING OF REWARDS: Is it better to have consistency in rewarding staff for their efforts or does a reward given at a random time keep employees on their toes in a positive way?
    – DIFFERENT EFFORT LEVELS: The gift was explained as a reward for doing great work; however, for someone why should an employee that was there for a single day of training get the same reward as one who was there from the beginning? Does this seemingly unfair reward cause ill feelings among employees?
    – THOSE THAT JUST MISSED IT: Did this adversely affect employees that were hired shortly after?

  • Hard to believe organizations still make the simple things difficult. It is apparent the minute one starts working with a company if the employees are happy about their work or not. If there is an option, I will always choose happy employees. In fact, I will pay more to work with nice, fun, happy employees and businesses. Employees need to be supported and given the proper tools to engage with customers.

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  • Gary Georges

    Hi Stan,

    After writing this I noticed my point was raised already from earlier feedback but I’ll post it anyway.

    How a company chooses in internally deal with negaitivy reflects on how their customers are treated. Experience comes from being exposed to difficult situations and overcoming these types of situations that influence negaitivity. We can’t fight or avoid the difficult sutuations but we can – as an individual and as a company – reduce or ignore the negativity. This will translate into happiness at work and customers also reap the benefits.

    Thanks also for introducing me to ‘lagniappe’. It’s a foreign term to us in Australia but I understand and agree with the concept.


  • Daniel White

    My company, The Container Store, has been talking about “employee-first” culture for 35 years. We have worked hard to create benefits and examples of something extra that highlight our commitment to each other.

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