Carl Sewell’s Customers for Life

             Car magnate Carl Sewell‘s book Customers for Life makes an important link between customers and employees. Treating one group well over the other is not an “either-or” concept, in spite of the fact such seems to be the case in some companies. Let’s see, a comparison between two airlines comes immediately to mind: one that gets it, and one that doesn’t.  Can you guess which?

“They (employees and customers) are equally important,” Carl says.

This concept impressed me years ago when I first read his book. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to create a corporate culture of brilliant customer service if management treats employees badly. His thinking follows along these lines of human nature: Employees, in a pinch or under stress, are going to act the way they have been treated. Treat them well, and they are going to be far more likely to understand how to treat customers well. What Sewell looks for is not the sort of behavior you’re likely to learn by memorizing a script. It’s the kind of stuff that comes on the fly, in the heat of battle, when it counts most.  Let’s see, and those airlines I’m thinking of, are….?

          For those reading this who are not completely familiar with Carl and his successes, he grew a $10 million car dealership to a $500 million cluster of dealerships in two states. He was chairman of the board of Southern Methodist University, respected both locally and in his industry for his business acumen and philanthropic generosity.

Carl spoke at an SMU luncheon recently where he reminded everyone how the late Stanley Marcus,  leader of Neiman Marcus, was one of Carl’s favorite mentors. “You need to be around successful people,” Carl said. “Very successful people.”

As for the airlines, I was thinking of American and how difficult they can be and Southwest and how delightful they are more often than not. Of course, these things change as leadership and management change. Uh, just like Carl points out: Leadership sets the tone.