Customer Satisfaction from the Inside Out


Customer satisfaction is more than a buzzword in the aviation and transit worlds. It is a critical element to increasing passengers and ridership. While promotions and rewards programs have their place and are an essential piece of the puzzle, there is another element that is easy to overlook: employee satisfaction. Did you know employee satisfaction at work has a direct correlation to customer satisfaction? 

If you’re a manager and haven’t read the book, “First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman, don’t do anything else until you’ve read this post.

What sets this management book apart from the crowd is that it is based entirely on a Gallup study of in-depth interviews with more than 80,000 managers across 400 organizations — the largest study of its kind ever conducted.

The goal of the study was to determine, as the title suggests, what the best managers do differently, with the hope of revealing specific take-aways. What emerged were simple yet critical steps any manager can take to increase productivity, retention and even customer satisfaction.

Part 1: The Research

The research conducted for this exploration created the foundation on which the authors build a convincing case for strengths-focused management. The study revealed that measuring the vigor of a workplace could be accomplished by asking six simple questions. These questions, say the authors, encapsulate the most critical information regarding “the core elements needed to attract, focus, and keep the most talented employees.”

The questions are surprisingly simple:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Upon reviewing employees’ answers to these six questions, Gallup found a direct correlation between positive answers and productivity, profitability, retention and customer satisfaction. The data showed that certain questions had a higher correlation with retention, whereas others correlated more highly with productivity, and so on. Additionally, it is noted that the questions function like a pyramid, in that employees who are unable to answer positively to the first two will be unable to answer positively the subsequent questions.

The authors posit that managers who focus on helping employees answer each of these questions positively will see increased productivity, profitability, etc. However, their study did not focus simply on the outcomes. The real meat of the book is in the practical application of tools that will help managers produce the desired outcomes in their own employees.


Part 2: What Great Managers Know and Do

Much of the book is spent dispelling various pieces of conventional wisdom — particularly that people can change. The authors testify that among all the data they compiled and reviewed, the one insight repeated by tens of thousands of great managers is: “People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”

Based upon this concept, the bulk of the book focuses on four keys for would-be-great-managers:

  1. Select your employees for talent specific to the role they will be playing in the workplace. The emphasis here is on the word talent, meaning a natural gift (which cannot be taught), not to be confused with knowledge and skills (which can be taught).
  2. When setting expectations, define the right results not the right steps. This allows the employee to choose his or her own path while still meeting expectations in the end. “A manager’s basic responsibility,” state the authors, “is to turn talent into performance” (p. 121).
  3. When motivating an employee, focus on strengths, not on weaknesses. This ties directly to the wisdom uttered by thousands of great managers — people don’t really change that much — and is the main focus of the book. “Let them become more of who they already are” (p. 141) is a common theme throughout, with the emphasis on giving employees the freedom (and equipping them) to spend time developing their strengths instead of trying to improve upon areas of weaknesses.

And yet, weaknesses cannot be ignored. “As soon as they realize that a weakness is causing the poor performance, [great managers] switch their approach.” Great managers also know that there are only three ways to help that employee achieve success:

  • Devise a support system (find creative ways to help them work around the weakness), and/or
  • Find a complementary partner who can help balance out that weakness, or
  • Find an alternative role

Summarized nicely by the authors, perhaps the most essential theme of the entire book is, “You succeed by finding ways to capitalize on who you are, not by trying to fix who you aren’t.”

  1. When helping an employee develop, help him or her find the right career fit, not just the next rung on the ladder. The authors suggest that great managers help their staff cultivate their natural talents and grow in those areas rather than throwing them to the lion’s den of whatever abilities might be demanded by the next step up.

Part of the manager’s responsibility is to match the talent to the role. As the authors point out, many organizations require management of others in order to continue moving up the corporate ladder. However, while an employee might be an outstanding salesperson, they may be a terrible manager. In this case, “promoting” a salesperson to sales manager may be a poor casting choice, and sets him up for inevitable failure in the new role.

In order to apply these keys, particularly the final three, it is imperative to identify and appreciate what motivators elicit achievement from each employee. One cannot effectively set expectations, cultivate, or promote an employee, state the authors, without a clear understanding of his or her talents.


Part 3: Practical Application

The final portion of the book focuses on ways to implement keys two, three and four every day, with every employee. The authors call this performance management. Each of the managers Gallup interviewed has implemented a unique routine in his or her performance management plan. Despite the varied approaches, these routines share four characteristics:

  1. First, the performance management routine as a whole is very simple, with the emphasis on what to say to each employee and how to say it, without getting caught in the entanglements of complex performance appraisals. While annual reviews are helpful, it is important not to rely solely on these evaluations. The most important thing is to engage in ongoing performance coaching, which leads nicely into the second characteristic —
  2. The routine involves frequent interaction between manager and employee, with performance assessments occurring at least once per quarter. This sounds daunting at first, but as the authors note, “If you are worried about the time drain… remember that the best managers spend, on average, only one hour per quarter per person discussing performance” (p. 223). Frequent meetings also make it easier to correct and guide throughout the year, making criticisms less overwhelming.
  3. The routine focuses on the future, spending just a few minutes on past performance and directing the conversation toward what’s next and ways to help draw out the talent in each employee.
  4. Finally, the routine asks the employee to track his or her own performance throughout the year, and gives the employee opportunity to take responsibility for goals, progress, and overall performance.


In summary, what the world’s best managers do differently is get to know each employee, beginning with the interview process, identifying and cultivating individual talents, creating an environment that helps each employee feel engaged in their own development. Great managers aren’t afraid to break the rules by rejecting “conventional wisdom” in favor of strengths-focused management tactics, and it is this breaking of the rules that has led to the success of hundreds of companies, and thousands of employees — and an improved customer experience for countless individuals.



Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C., (1999). First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Best Managers Do Differently. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

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