CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: Is Your Company “Check Engine” Light On?


On a hot summer morning in 1992, I was driving to work when all of a sudden my engine stopped running. It was rush hour so you can imagine how all the people driving in my lane were reacting. As cars began to find ways to navigate around me, honking and rubbernecking ensued. I was desperate and frustrated.

After the car was towed and I had it checked out by a mechanic, I learned the engine had locked up due to the oil level being too low—okay, actually there was no oil left.

I was so busy at my job with the task of leasing apartments and managing a community that I didn’t even think about why my check engine light was on—or that I had to make sure the engine had plenty of oil so that it could function properly.

In a vehicle’s engine there are many moving parts that all operate together. The oil in an engine is what keeps everything running smoothly. Without it, these moving parts rub against each other, create extreme friction, and can tear each other apart. Eventually, parts will wear out and the engine as a whole will ultimately fail—just like mine did.   

A company is no different. When the working parts are not lubricated and moving smoothly, the parts rub against each other, create friction, and cause failure.

The oil in your company’s engine is the understanding that every employee in every department, large or small, has an internal customer to serve BEFORE they can effectively serve their external customers. An internal customer is someone or some department within your organization. In property management, it can be a community, a regional office, a district office, a corporate office and so on. Those at the top serve those in the middle and on the frontline, the middle serves the top and the frontline, the frontline serves the middle and the top, and so on.

When your internal oil level and pressure is right your company check engine light will remain off — all groups work together productively and co-exist peacefully, to meet common goals, which will lead to better quality products, service and customer experience for external customers.


Niki Leondakis, Chief Operating Officer of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants says, “Taking care of our employees comes before taking care of our guests. There’s no way the guests are going to have a great experience if our employees are unhappy.” Their employees are happy in their job because someone gave them the power to improve the customer experience they were providing. “They really want to do something nice for someone, and that’s because their managers do that for them.”

Kimpton Properties hires happy, optimistic, genuinely caring human beings at all levels. The technical side is less important to them in the hiring process than who the person is as a human being. Clearly this focus works for them.  In an industry where employee turnover can reach nearly 65 percent, Kimpton sees almost 20 percent fewer employees leave annually—a big savings in recruitment and training.

Is there a connection between employee loyalty and customer loyalty? Yes, there is a definite connection. When you look at world-class companies like Southwest Airlines or USAA, you will find they have very low employee turnover.  Research has shown time and again, it’s nearly impossible to create customer loyalty (inside or out) with a team that is constantly in turnover. Customers buy relationships and continuity. They buy an experience, and you lose consistency in the customer experience with high employee turnover.

Every employee in every department has an internal customer to serve before they can effectively serve the external customer

Employee happiness may not be at the top of many executives’ lists, especially these days, but it should be. Happy employees—especially in customer service—are more engaged with their jobs and therefore more likely to go the extra mile for all customers.


Going back to my vehicle engine analogy—with the extreme levels of friction created by the engine’s moving parts, some microscopic wear particles eventually fall from parts into the engine’s process flow. These tiny particles can do much damage to the engine—and to the customer experience.

Here are some examples of tiny destructive particles in a business:

  • Self-serving departments
  • Division between departments
  • Office politics/conflict
  • Poor communication
  • Top down philosophy
  • Generational differences
  • Mean, unhappy people
  • Confused leaders

These contaminants are often revealed through resident surveys, employee surveys, apartment reviews, performance, customer experience ratings, and retention rates. If ignored or left unresolved this sludge can paralyze your company, keeping you from achieving goals.

Your company engine is a machine that changes energy into motion when it is running properly—when harnessed—that energy allows you to truly hear the Voice of the Customer and respond to their wants and needs, creating an exceptional customer experience.  And isn’t that the ultimate goal?  

Do you have a story to share?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

-Maria Lawson

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