Therefore Strategic Technology Services

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Today’s staff, tomorrow’s customers

According to the McDonald's Corporation website, McDonald's is present in 101 countries, has in excess of 36,000 restaurants and serves some 69 million people daily (January 2018).

What is of even more interest is the fact that the fast-food chain has at one point or another employed 1 in 8 Americans (roughly 13%), according to an estimate in the book "Fast Food Nation." The list of Americans that have been on a McDonald’s payroll includes the likes of Jeff Bezos, Rachel McAdams, Macy Gray, Carl Lewis, Jay Leno and Pink.

Think about this. If 13% of Americans have worked at McDonalds during the course of their working career, McDonald’s America can expect that roughly 13% of their clientele have at some point in time worked on the other side of the counter. 

The implications of this are huge. I don’t know about you, but if I had previously worked for a company and the experience had been a negative one, I would be less inclined to do business with them in the future. I am pretty sure that I am not alone on this view point. For this reason, McDonald’s need to treat their staff as both employees and as future consumers, which is no doubt a significant human resources challenge.

Closer to home, I have often seen staff leave the employ of a company after having received a raw deal, only to turn up a number of years later as a senior employee at a material customer. Well, you can guess what happens next. I have seen some anchor clients leave service providers as a consequence. I recall an event of this nature that resulted in a service provider shedding some 20% of their turnover. As they say in the classics, “be careful of which butt you kick today, as you may have to kiss it tomorrow.”

McDonald’s is acutely aware of the “today’s staff are tomorrow’s customers” phenomenon and their staff relations policies reflect this principle very clearly.

The “today’s staff are tomorrow’s customers” principle is further exacerbated by the impact of word of mouth communication. Negative word of mouth can mean that a single disgruntled ex-employee can do significant damage to a brand. In short, you stand at risk of losing the custom of both your ex-employee and those with whom he has shared is story. Word of mouth that emanates from an ex-employee tends to be seen as highly credible, given that the ex-employee is presumed to have “inside knowledge”, which makes it all the more damaging.

Let’s put the “today’s staff are tomorrow’s customers” principle aside for a moment and focus simply on the labour market brand damage that an ex-employee with an “axe to grind” can have. 

Companies that have a reputation for being “bad employers” will naturally battle to attract skilled staff. The converse also applies. Those that are seen as “good employers” will find it far easier to attract top skills. This is compounded by the fact that people tend to offer their services into a particular industry as they develop industry specific skills and contacts over the course of their careers. I have no doubt that you have heard people say, “This industry is so small!” at conferences and the like. Well there you go, if you are seen as a “bad employer”, word will travel within your industry faster than you can say, “employer of choice”.

A quick word of warning, if you are going to tell your staff that you are the industry’s “employer of choice”, make sure that its true and not an intention or a wish. Nobody detects employer insincerity faster that an employee. 

The long and short of it is that being a good employer makes business sense, so when you look at your staff, think of them as a microcosm of your market and treat them with as much respect and care as you would like them to treat your customers … or, in the words of Richard Branson, “If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.”

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