Most founders have two stakeholders to please: customers and employees.
While that sounds easy enough, it isn’t always simple. There are times when the best interest of a customer is at odds with that of an employee. For example, imagine an upset customer who is becoming demanding of an employee. How do you solve this? Is the customer always right? It begs the question: Which group is more important to management? This question is an important one. It is critical to determine which group to build your company around, as it can magnetize your management decisions in one direction or another, leading to policy shifts and more broadly defining the overall ethos of your company.
But, can’t they be equally important? Any successful manager has to be thinking deeply about the needs of both groups. I do, however, think that management teams need to take a position -- when it hits the fan, who do they care about more?
Just to clarify, I’m not talking about extreme situations. When a member of the team is underperforming, the client deserves their due. When a customer is making unreasonable demands, you have to shield your team. But this question goes deeper than relatively black-and-white situations. It’s about ethos, culture and how the company is built.
Let me ask the question another way. Which would you rather lose -- all of your customers or your entire team? There’s no right answer of course, and the thought of either stings. I personally would rather lose my customers. In most businesses, hiring and training is a bigger lift than acquiring customers. I personally believe that the right team will stick it out through hard times and find more customers. That might not be how all managers think about that question, but it’s how I do. I’m a team-first manager.
I don’t think I’m alone in this view. While founders of companies with extreme customer concentration might choose to prioritize their customers, I think most other founders have already unknowingly chosen to put their team first. Have a mobile app with tens of thousands of users? You’re very likely to be team first. But what if you just have a few dozen clients? The choice might be more difficult.
What does putting your team first mean? What it doesn’t mean is undervaluing customers or delivering poor customer service. Quite the contrary. It means that investing in culture, training and employee well-being is priority number one. The magic is that prioritizing your team and culture actually leads to a healthier business. Happy teams fight to keep their company alive so they don’t have to get a job they’ll like less. When people like their work environment and colleagues, they train each other and enjoy solving the hard problems the business is facing before those issues fester.
Retaining team members and hiring new is easier. And, what happens when people work hard and are happy? They almost always deliver an incredible customer experience. I believe that if you put your team first, you’ll have a stronger company -- and ultimately deliver better customer service.