Book review: The customer comes second

The title of this book is a deliberate provocation. After endless messages about putting the customer first, Hal Rosenbluth, CEO of Rosenbluth International, says you should “put your people first and watch’em kick butt”. (Rosenbluth International is a world leader in corporate travel management, with over 5.000 people in more than 50 countries).

The same principle works so well for Southwest Airlines, as described in the book “Nuts!“. And indeed there seems to be many similarities between the approaches taken by Southwest and Rosenbluth, and the results they achieve.

Both companies enjoy huge financial success. They both lead their markets in quality of service and customer satisfaction. They both have a motivated, caring work force, willing to go very far for their customers, each other and the community. They both care deeply about people, and strive to make work a place where people learn, have fun and grow. They both hire people who have the right personality, and then train them to have the right skill.

The book differs from the Southwest book in its structure, and has more of a how-to format. There are chapters on hiring people, on learning, on service and on partnerships. At the end of each chapter, the salient points are summarized. Many of Rosenbluth’s policies and methods probably work only for them, but many others could be lifted straight into most companies, where they would create instant benefits for both people and the bottom line.

The book has very moving epilogue, that tells the story of how Rosenbluth handled events after 9/11. Their business literally disappeared overnight. Nobody was travelling anywhere. Decisive action was needed, and they had to fire hundreds of people.

In my opinion, a company’s commitment to its values are tested mostly in adversity. And Rosenbluth certainly demonstrated the strength of its commitment its people. When the layoffs and furloughs were announced, people reacted by voluntarily offering to work for less money. People who could afford it asked to be furloughed instead of colleagues who couldn’t afford it. Leaders took pay cuts, so less of their people would have to be fired.

And those who were laid off came by Hal Rosenbluth’s office in large numbers to thank him and the company for the good times. I have seen other companies in trouble, and believe me, this sort of behavior is not common.

The epilogue contains several letters written by Hal Rosenbluth to his employees, and the dedication to the company and love for his people evident in those letters is truly moving.

Rosenbluth recovered, and was soon able to bring back most of the people laid off. Which is what people had been working extra hard to achieve.

I think there’s a lot to learn from Rosenbluth International, and the way they do business, and this book makes it easy to learn from them. I recommend it highly!

20 thoughts on “Book review: The customer comes second”

  1. I think I love you. I’m about to present the “5 reasons why the customer isn’t right” to my boss, and this stuff about “The Secret” to my mum who is worrying about m brother who is raving about this book.


  2. Pingback: Jdocih’s Weblog
  3. hie there… i’ve read ur post… its great… i’m wondering if u have any on sale in singapore?

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