There's a difference between internal and external customers -- but both are always right

Brandon WebbEntrepreneurs of New YorkFormer Navy SEAL and current CEO of Force12 Media, Brandon Webb

The customer is always right.

I started my company Force12 Media three years ago on a soggy Guinness soaked napkin in a La Jolla, California, trying to invent my way out of an executive job with a large defence company.

One thing I learned from my experience with L3 Defence, and in large part from my boss Elissa, was the value of taking care of your customers.

And it can’t be faked, you have to genuinely care.

What started over a beer and one website grew to ten sites, two internet radio shows, online TV, and our own publishing label with St. Martin’s Press of New York. All in, we reach 40 million people monthly.

It wasn’t an easy journey, and the company wouldn’t be where it is today if we didn’t take care of our customers, all of them, internal and external.

Last week I met briefly with the CEO of Skull Candy during a recent Entrepreneurs Organisation New York (EONY) event in Manhattan and the conversation drifted towards knowing your customer. Toby, the CEO, reminded me about the customer relationship. I took it deeper and started to reflect on the customer conversation, both internal, and external.

Both are incredibly important to a successful and healthy company in my experience.

I see so many employees forget that their internal customer is their reporting senior, not external customers of the business. External customers are the business customers, not employees customers.

I’ve got news for you, if you’re not taking care of your boss you’ve got one foot in the unemployment line. I just had a very candid conversation with one of my team members about this.

If your boss is unhappy, this is a problem, it always a surprise to me how this is lost on so many people I run into today that start in complaining about their boss. Whether you like it or not, your boss is the one you have to keep happy, he or she is customer #1 and you better realise it.

Respect is a two-way street and I work to foster candid communication and respect up and down the chain of command (sorry military term and I can’t help myself) but at the end of the day, I’ll side with my senior staff over their subordinates if it comes to that. However, enough about internal customers, let’s talk external, the customers of the business.

In my businesses we two core external customers. Consumers of our online content, and our advertising sponsors. It’s written in stone via our company core values to take care of both along with our own people (I’ll get to that later).

It’s easy to experience success and grow complacent or arrogant about your customers but it’s early stage cancer to let it continue in an organisation.

If I hear even the faintest murmur from someone on my team complaining about one of our customers, I’m quick to address the situation and remind them that our customers are always right. If your customers aren’t feeling taken care of then it’s we who’ve failed them, not the other way around. It’s that simple.

Last year we had our largest advertising customer’s agency experienced high turn-over and their digital team became a compost heap.Then it got even worse, and we started getting treated like the help, not a fun position to be in.

Seriously, it was bad — someone on their digital team threatened to not RFP (request for quote) us unless we took their team out for dinner and drinks. Another instance is was manicures and pedicures. It got so out of hand that I was forced to call the brand direct.

Note: Advertising agencies don’t like that very much.

The good news was that we valued this customer, like all our customers, and had a great relationship with them.

Our team will do anything for our customers two of our company mottos are “You dream it, we build it”, and “The Difficult Done Immediately, The impossible by appointment only”.

One very candid call to the client direct and they turned the tables on the dynamic, and suddenly the agency was forced to shape up, and treat us like the partner we were. It was a valuable lesson for me and our team: We witnessed the value of taking care of your customers first hand.

I’ve also experienced one of our content consumers actually call the CEO of a company sponsor on our behalf to pay them a compliment for advertising with us. It was an amazing thing to witness and grounded the fact, that if you take care of your customers and they will take care of you.

Brandon Webb is a former Navy SEAL, CEO of Force12 Media, author of “Among Heroes: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s True Story of Friendship, Heroism, and the Ultimate Sacrifice,” and a member of EONY.

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