Being a CEO means you're the boss. Yep, that's you, sittin' solo at the top of the org chart. But who's your boss? I'd argue you have quite a few and to be effective, you've got to listen to each and every one of them.
Your customers are the reason you're in business and should be your No. 1 priority. At my email marketing company, VerticalResponse, we make listening to our customers everyone's job. To do so, we've got an award-winning onsite customer service team that interacts with our customers via phone, email, instant message and on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. By being where our customers are, we can get their feedback, listen to their challenges and communicate with them in meaningful ways.
Pete Blackshaw wrote a whole book about the fact that unhappy customers can potentially tell 3,000 people (thanks to their social networks) about their negative experience. You can't always prevent someone from being vocal about your product or service, whether it's good or bad. However, you can use a customer complaint to improve your business and not only make that customer happy, but thousands of others, too.
One other thing I do to make sure I'm personally accessible to our customers is having my email address and Twitter handle available on our website so our customers can always reach me directly. You'll see many members of our exec team do the same, too. Don't be afraid to give this a try. The information your customers can and will provide you is priceless.
Your Board of Directors
As a counter to your customers, your board of directors is going to be your constant gut check on whether you are moving your company forward and meeting your business goals. They represent the point of view of keeping you profitable, growing and successful. Your board will be the ones asking the tough questions and making sure you keep focused.
Dealing with your board shouldn't always be a dreadful thing, though. They also can be an invaluable resource when you hit a bump in the road or face a challenge you don't know how to solve. Your board should consist of experienced members from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise so they can provide a broad perspective on many issues.
If you've got investors, you better believe they are going to be your boss because they have a vested (or in this case, invested) monetary interest in your success. But tread lightly here. You investors want to get their money back (and then some) and may not be focused on the big picture. It's your job to manage their expectations while staying the course toward profitability, acquisition or whatever your ultimate goal is to pay back your valuable investors.
Last, but definitely not least, you have your employees. I'm amazed at how vocal and involved our team is at sharing new ideas to improve our product, service or customer experience. When you provide an open forum for your team and show them you value their opinions and ideas, anything can happen. Some of our best business-changing ideas have come from the people on the front lines, like when our director of marketing communications came up with the idea to offer our email marketing tool for free to nonprofits, or when a customer service rep came up with the idea for our event marketing product. When you encourage your employees to think like the boss, anything is possible.
So even though you probably report to more bosses than your employees, it's not a bad thing because at the end of the day, they just want you to succeed. By listening to and being open to ideas from all your bosses, you and your business will be on the road to greater success.