One thing you hear time and time again from successful business people is that employees are everything. Take good care of employees and they will take care of you.

We also hear repeatedly this bit of business wisdom; it is all about the customer. Customers are the most important thing in business. Satisfy the clients or the business will not be around long.

Are Client and Employee Satisfaction Mutually Exclusive?

So which is it? What’s the key to success – employees or customers? Of course they are both true. There is not just one ingredient to business success, there are several. The Balanced Scorecard approach, for example, lists four areas of focus that a business must balance in order to succeed over the long term: employees, customers, finances, and processes. Too much focus on one or two of these areas while ignoring the others is recipe for failure. So while the advice to focus on employees and customers are both true, it can be misleading if you take it to mean that you should only focus on one or the other.

We have also heard that happy employees equals satisfied customers, and while there is certainly a grain of truth there, some evidence indicates that this may not always be the case. In fact, there is little correlation between the Forbes “100 Best Customer Service” list and the “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. Balancing client needs with employee needs can be difficult since they often directly conflict. Paying employees more and providing great benefits might mean customers have to pay more. Employees would love more holidays and family time, but customers expect their product to be shipped quickly or to be able to talk to a real person.

While every organization and every employee is different, there are some general areas to consider when trying build both client and employee satisfaction.

Aligning Employee and Customer Goals

Good employees don’t only want high pay and time off. They want to be challenged and they want to have some ownership or control over how they do things. This frequently aligns perfectly with achieving better customer satisfaction. How can other common goals be leveraged? Identifying and removing obstacles, for example, improves both employee and customer satisfaction. If you can map and see the connections between the various goals of these stakeholders then you have important, useful information to act on.

Be Direct and Honest About Organizational Needs

The mushroom syndrome is often a factor in having unhappy employees. For some reason, a common management tactic is to withhold information from the workers. Employees don’t understand why they do things. The big picture is never clear and they are not privy to overarching goals or reasons. They don’t know the importance of their contribution; they only know the rote activities of their job.

Every indication is that such an approach is counterproductive. When employees know why they are doing something and why it is important as well as what to do, then they are far more likely to be innovative and it generally improves two-way communication in the organization. This is good for employees and customers, whether employees deal with customers directly or in-directly.

It Starts at the Beginning – Hiring Good Employees

Building high levels of employee and customer satisfaction starts with building a good team. Good teams cooperate to reach shared goals. To score a touchdown, someone has to block and someone has to pass, but with good teams both are happy when the referee raises his or her hands to the sky.

While a good resume and a good first impression are important indicators, is it really enough to know if this person is a good fit for your team? A significant number of employee issues, including poor satisfaction, could be resolved by improving the hiring process. This could include more interactions with current team members or walking through common work scenarios; anything that gives a manager a better feel for how this person fits into the team. After all, it is easier to teach someone new computer skills or new job activities than it is to teach them to have a better attitude.

Success – The Common Link to Satisfaction

While some elements of employee and customer satisfaction will always be at odds, not every facet goes in opposite directions. Sometimes they are mutual and connected. Build on the strengths of these mutual goals and the divergent components, like price versus pay, will probably become much less of an issue. After all, success is good for everyone.

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