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  • Writer's pictureVicki Viall

Employees vs. Customers: Who is more important?

There are many opinions that go both ways on this debate. Is there a right answer? Probably not. Then again, every business is different and made up of different styles of leadership and personalities.

Support for the customer side of that debate can be found in this article:

"If a business does not have a source of revenue, it will fail. No surprise there. This is an absolute whether it is a corporation, sole proprietorship, non-profit (foundation or charity), religious organization, e-commerce, or even a government entity. A business needs to have a source of revenue to pay the bills, invoices, employees, and expansion, etc. Customers support that." (Note 1)

The other side of the debate can be supported by this article:

"Having taken two businesses from $3 million to $60 million in revenue, each in less than five years, I've learned that employee happiness and well-being come before everything else--including signing on new clients. This emphasis has allowed me to scale up the businesses and build committed teams as we continue to innovate." (Note 2)

Both are valid and both are true. Is one more right than the other? No more so than the answer to the question of whether the glass is half full or empty.

I have worked in both and/or managed in both, as I am sure many of you have. Do I have a personal preference? Of course! But preferences are like opinions; every one has one.

I have been in jobs that hit both ends of this debate. I mean extreme ends. In one, our manager made each of us feel as though we were THE employee of year. Every day. Of every year. I couldn't wait to get up and go to work. In fact, I loved work so much that I actually dreaded weekends.

On the other end of the spectrum, a workplace that focuses only on the customer can dangerously threaten employee morale.

Let's say, for example, that you work in an environment where customers never pay their bills. Or, at least it seems that way. When they contact you, the conversation starts with them cursing you out because their service is interrupted. Because they didn't pay their bill. And, that's your fault, of course.

Even worse, as they are cursing you out, you better be kissing up to them and making things right, all the while collecting the money they owe. And buddy, don't even think you are going to receive support no matter which way you handle the call.

What kind of morale does that build? The resume always stands ready and is always circulating. Yeah, that kind of morale.

What's the answer? Wish I had it. As stated, above, it's all based on preferences and opinions. No one can tell you what style is best for you, your company or your employees.

This is trial and error on the front lines, folks! But, take each day as a learning opportunity and look for things that worked as well as things that didn't. Make lists. As for input. Read. Read. Read. And, research.

When I was in the Navy, there was a lot of good natured ribbing between the branches. Even now, when I find out a customer is Army, one of the first things out of my mouth is going to be, "Oh hey! Thanks for your service. And, by the way, we won this year!"

While on active duty, I don't remember where or when, but I heard about this story and searched it out to read. It made an everlasting mark on me. Here's a small part of the story:

"One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.

Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him, “It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.” (Note 3) Please take a moment to click on the link and read the entire article. You will thank me.

This made such an impression on me for a reason. At one of my duty stations, there weren't only Navy Pilots, we had Air Force Pilots as well. One day, I chanced to overhear someone asking the Air Force officer why he treated his crew so much better than what that person had seen from the Navy side.

The officer's remark went something like this:

"Every man on that crew, literally, holds my life in his hands. The parachute I wear is packed by one of my crew. My plane is maintained and repaired by members of my crew. My take off and landing are handled by my crew. Why in heck wouldn't I treat them like gold?"

The same is true in business, and the way I see it is this: if we take care of, encourage, train, and reward our employees, they are going to pass that on to our customers. Perhaps not always, but more often than enough not, and that will make us successful.

Whether employees own stock or not, the way they are treated directly affects their dedication to you, your business, your customers and your success.

If employees are empowered (AND supported) to make decisions, trust me, they will. They know if the business succeeds, so will they.

Again, I don't have all the answers. Some days, most days, I am not sure I have any. Still, I think there can be a compatible marriage between caring for both employees and customers to make a business more successful than it otherwise might be.

I would love to hear some feedback from YOU and what has worked for you, as well as what has not worked.

Perhaps next week, we should discuss how does an employee survive during both types of leadership. What do you think?

Well, as always, thank YOU for reading. Don't forget to check out the Photography page. Doing something different. Took all the photos down and put up different pictures. Going to keep doing that more often now.

Please offer some feedback on the photos you like most and why you may not like some of the others.

Feedback is imperative to growth, so I thank you for yours.

Have a great week and hope to see you back here next time!

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