Customer first. Always. No Customer -> no product or service -> no employees.
This seemingly difficult question popped into my feed because of Chris Lukassen. His reply is brilliantly simple: “Neither and both, you need to strike a balance. Suggestion: “people first””
Yes, when we have both, they should be balanced, which I will get into later. But first, lets get to the simple answer. Why would I say ‘cusomers first’?
It’s a bit like the chicken and egg metaphor, which also seems paradoxical but is quite straightforward: eggs were first. They may not have been chicken eggs. But they were there first. Be it dinosaurs or other precursors of chickens. (Yes, dinosaurs are mostly more like birds than like reptiles, who btw also lay eggs.)
So eggs first. And it’s the same with customers. Customers are out there. They exist. Whether you have found them or not. Whether you believe they exist or not. And they may not be your customer (yet). But they are out there for sure. So first meet a customer need, to make some of those customers YOUR customer. Then scale yourself and invest in employees that help serve the customer need even better that you could by yourself. Then keep that up to meet growing customer demand.
Oh and please keep some professionalism while you’re at it. What do I mean by that? Common sense stuff. Not everyone that buys your product has to stay your customer. What I love in the zappos book is employees can fire a customer if the customer is unreasonable, abusive, etc. ‘Customer first’ should not lead to unethical or abusive situations for your employees and same goes for the other way around (finance institutions and ‘pseudoscience salesmen’ are you listening?).
So we get back to Chris’ statement. It may start out simple, with finding a customer whose need we serve with our product. But when we are lucky enough to have found a customer, then it should become a balance. Where engaged, driven employees give their best to continuously become better at meeting their customer’s need in a symbiosis that adds value to both ends of this equasion. Happy customers AND happy employees. No need to choose.