If you were asked who the most important people to your business are, you might be tempted to say your employees. However, while they are clearly essential, it's your customers who really keep your company alive and growing.The men and women who buy from you are your lifeline and path to success. Why is it then that so many leaders and their employees often behave as if their customers are a burden? How can you say that you are customer focused when someone calling to speak to you is greeted with a recording that says "the current hold time to speak with one of our associates is 9 minutes" -- really? 

Leaders must prioritize the complete customer experience and find new, innovative ways to strengthen this relationship. Most leaders do stress the importance of customers, but often their decisions and actions are not in sync with their words. Customers often get short changed as operational cost savings and are implemented to improve short term earnings at the expense of disenfranchising them. Over time, this type of behavior encourages customers to find alternatives, and when they leave, they rarely come back.Here are four ways you can inspire a pro-customer mindset amongst your employees.

1. Don't waste your customer's time on the phone

Your customers really do not want to call you, and only do so when something is not right. It could be a billing problem, a technical question, an item or some other question.They want their problem solved satisfactorily and as quickly as possible.  

Your job is to make sure your employees are fully trained, empathetic, have the tools needed to solve problems and be concise.They and their supervisors also need some guard rails where they can not just quote the policy, but have a bit of latitude to make an intelligent decision in an unusual situation.  

Understand your metrics and make sure your customer service center is properly staffed. The benefits of all of the advice above is substantially diluted if the customer has to wait ten minutes to speak with someone, and even worse if they then need to be transferred to another agent.

2. Don't assume your customers are going to stay

I often tell my clients this shocking truth - your customers vote with their wallet on each transaction, and they don't have to return to your company -- your competition is just a transaction away. This is especially true with online purchases which are a click away. You need to stress how vital understanding your customers is. I always go out and meet with customers, one on one and ask them how things are going -- What they like, what they don't like, what they would like the company to do differently. It is amazing how open customers are when you solicit their input. I always come away learning so much about the company.

As your leaders and employees see the example you set, they will be encouraged to do the same, unleashing an army of your folks who are engaging with your customers. It is time well spent that is valuable, profitable and enjoyable.  

3. Deter employees from bad mouthing customers

Every employee has had a negative experience with a customer -- it's part of the customer service role by definition. As a result, it's only normal that coworkers rant amongst themselves about their frustrations. Over time, this behavior shapes the way they interact with your customers in an insidious way that even they may not be aware of. 

Your job as a leader is to create an environment that does not allow this toxic behavior to exist. Managers and supervisors need to be aware of this behavior and take decisive corrective action quickly. Remember, your customers are not public enemy number one!

4. Become the customer

Switch positions and put yourself in your customers shoes. Would you be happy with this experience? Is there something you would like to change? 

In every job I have had, and in every client I have advised, I actually shop the company. I buy stuff, visit stores, call into call centers and really try to get the raw customer experience. I often find lots of good things and I always find things that can be changed.

As the leader you should be highly curious and constantly ask the questions -- how does this work, how can we make it better, why do we do it this way, etc.? The answers are golden and making changes based on your experiences will definitely translate into a better customer experience.

The customer is always right. Whoever came up with this expression had tremendous insight and awareness. Customers are not annoying, even when they are annoying. They pay your salaries, bonuses and satisfaction, provide you with the cash flow to grow.