Tag Archives: Chief executive officer

Nine customer experience resolutions for 2013

1 Jan

According to Forrester, nearly 75% of customer experience leaders say their firms’ goal is to differentiate on the basis of customer experience. No surprises there then. Despite that heart-warming aspiration, we’re also told that only 3% of companies succeed in delivering a great experience. Talk is (very) cheap. Here then are my own pleas and provocations, including some lessons learned the hard way, for what needs to be on your New Year’s resolutions list. Start, stop, and cancel buttons on an office laser printer


If your CEO has the emotional intelligence of a kidney bean, then good luck talking about loving and respecting the customer and pointing out that it’s the customer who ultimately pays everyone’s salaries.

Unless you are blessed with a CEO who naturally thinks customer, you will struggle to make ‘customer stuff’ more than a project or an initiative, in other words, something with an end date, until you make the connections, causation and correlation between customer (and employee) happiness and the financial bottom line.

Do that and you’ll be talking a language they’ll hear: to misquote US President Lyndon Johnson, ‘get them by the numbers and their hearts and minds will follow’.


Someone – whether the CMO or the Chief Customer Officer – needs to fight hard for the customer and train the business to understand that great customer experiences ‘only work when it all works’ as far as the customer is concerned.

Stop the squabbling at the executive table and poring over internal efficiency metrics and look at customer outcomes, and start working together for the customer. The 2012 Temkin Group survey tells us that the top two obstacles to customer experience efforts are ‘other competing priorities’ (72% of companies) and ‘conflict across the internal organisations’ (52%).

So (and forgive the jargon) this means breaking down the silos, and using disciplines like customer journey mapping to design with intent the experience, and help business get its’ CEO: Customer Eyes On.


Customer centricity is a tough sell internally because it should challenge short term thinking. It’s about forgoing short term profit maximisation, the kinds of things that help the balance sheet but piss off customers (what Fred Reicheld calls Bad Profits), in return for the more uncertain expectation of longer term gains, the Good Profits that come from happy customers giving you more business, sticking with you and saying nice things. So, it takes guts and courage at the top to embark on this journey and then stay the course.


As the old saying goes, if you’re not serving customers, then you’d better be serving someone who is. However, the reality is, it is far too easy for most employees to find reasons to distance themselves – literally and emotionally – from the customer. Companies need to find imaginative ways to connect the back office and head office with customer’s lives. And to do this in a way that isn’t superficial and box ticking. Half-listening in on calls once a year on a back to the floor programme, whilst catching up on emails on your blackberry won’t cut the mustard.

And, how much time does the CEO spend with customers? According to PWC*, among global CEOs, 69% wish they could spend more time meeting with customers. I hope this doesn’t just mean inviting business customers to sporting junkets. And, how many of your employees use your own products and services? How well do you harness their own experiences, good and bad, and use these to improve the experience for all customers?

Imagine if the customer was in the conference room with you, observing the decisions being taken. Would you so be so quick to agree to that new pricing plan, knowing in your heart that the real winner isn’t the customer, but the company and the distributor too?  Jeff Bezos is famous for keeping an empty meeting-room chair for the customer at amazon. For many companies, they’d firstly have to remove the shareholder from the chair


I worry about all this talk of a brave new world where companies have unprecedented amounts of customer data, knowledge and analytics at their fingertips. To do what exactly? I doubt that many of us consumer want to be relentlessly sold to, having been brilliantly targeted and hunted down like prey. Where is the heart behind the machine? Organisations still have to firstly earn the right to ask for more of my money, which means getting the basics right and being there for me when I need them and moreover, doing this consistently. Sounds simple, but it’s not.

So, with power comes responsibility; with big data comes bigger responsibility.  Let’s please not forget the basics of serving customers, one at a time. There’s a great quote from Howard Schultz who, complaining in 2008 that Starbucks had lost its’ focus on the customer, wrote:  “We thought in terms of millions of customers and thousands of stores instead of one customer, one partner and one coffee at a time. We forgot that “ones” add up.”


It used to be enough for a company to act a good corporate citizen through its green initiatives, workforce volunteering and sponsorships.  Thus the CSR box got ticked. Wolff Olins wrote in their Game Changer paper about a ‘lukewarm bath’ of ad hoc policies to neutralise the embarrassing stuff: “banks stayed greedy but continued to pour money into the arts”. 

Reputation becomes all important as societal scrutiny grows: how close to the wind does the company sail in its tax affairs?; how well does it look after its workers, are suppliers exploited? Issues that in the past had, on the face of it, not that much to do with the actual product nor even with the customer voice. Apparently, when he took office, the IBM chairman asked, ‘why would society allow us to operate’? That’s a really good question and one that’s going to have to be taken more seriously in the future.

Managing the tensions between different groups’ needs – shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers, partners, and wider society – will become tougher and more visible.  Peter Drucker wrote in 1973: “to know what a business is, we have to start with its purpose. Its purpose must be outside of the business itself. In fact, it must lie in society since business enterprise is an organ of society”.


I’m no expert in social, but it’s here to stay, so let’s stop acting like rabbits dazzled in the headlights. It feels wrong to:

  • Run fun and sexy “like me, please” campaigns that have very little to do with what your business is about: I doubt that a ‘social’ veneer will turn it into something it isn’t. Think of Dad dancing at the disco
  • Sometimes respond, sometimes not. Are you really ‘closed’ at the weekend, for example? A recent survey by Customer Service Investigator found that big name brands responded to only 14% of requests for help, via social media!
  • Use social media for self-serving propaganda; consumers aren’t naive, and will see through it. Think of the Waitrose campaign from a few months ago, or more recently how Starbucks’ “spread the cheer” campaign backfired.
  • Treat it like a separate channel, or an add-on, to be picked up and put down

Social is turbo-charged conversations. Why wouldn’t you want to talk to, listen and learn from customers? And, because great customer experiences start with your own people…


As I suggested earlier, every employee ought to be an advocate for their own company’s products. If they’re not, then some serious questions need to be asked. Like what are you doing here, for one, and why does the company feel that a dis-engaged workforce will lead to happy customers?

There’s a wealth of data out there to show that when people are proud of their company good things happen: they stand up for it, they own their friends’ problems and so on, all in order to change the external perception.

I was reminded of this when I read a spokesperson for Barclays say, in a recent Marketing Week article “I see what the organisation believes internally and it is not the organisation that is portrayed, the organisation people see from the exterior”.

The power and role of workforce advocates will grow. After all, the 2012 Edelmans Trust Barometer tells us that while the CEO is declining as a credible information source (understandable, given the bad rep automatically bestowed on most high profile CEOs these days), the rank and file employee is growing in credibility as an information source and company representative, probably because it’s much easier to relate to them than it is your average CEO.


You get the most behaviours from the behaviours you reward the most. A couple of recent US cases involving big companies are noteworthy. The New York Times ran a story about Staples in the US who, according to employees, “has in place a set of incentives that make it unpleasant, to put it mildly, for staffers to sell a computer without a whole bunch of accessories, particularly a service plan”. Hmm. On the plus side, GM Motors’ CEO launched a new compensation structure that connects staff bonuses to loyalty, measured by repeat purchases, in other words, people coming back and buying more cars.

 Incentivising for short-term sales is not compatible with generating long term loyalty. No amount of positive internal messages about looking after customers – the kind of stuff seen on office walls – will counteract those metrics that affect the pay-packet.


  • Forrester, December 2012
  • PWC 10 Minutes on Customer Impact, March 2012.         
  • Wolff Olins, Game Changers, 2012
  • Peter Drucker, 1973
  • Marketing Week, Barclays promises a ‘relentless customer focus’ to rebuild trust, 6th December 2012
  • CSI Infographic, 11th December in mediabistro.com

Image courtesy of www.freeimageslive.com


“We have the world’s best customers and the world’s best employees” : USAA CEO on film

22 Nov

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

USAA is one to follow with interest;  a stellar performer in customer experience, as measured by Net Promoter. Here is the CEO on the CEO TV show talking about leadership, mission and surviving in dire economic times.

It’s always good to see a CEO use the c-word, customer, and hear him articulate what is in effect the classic ‘service profit’ chain. When asked about the key to success he talks about having a strong team around him, all focused on taking care of the customer…..and if you do this, your customers provide the profitability you need.

And he signals his respect and appreciation for his customers with the statement, “we have the best customers in the world”, and says the same of his employees too, because of course, you can’t have great customers (and great customer experiences) without great employees to begin with.


If you don’t believe in it, it’s just another metric – five CEOs talk Net Promoter

17 Nov

A cosy fireside kind of chat filmed by Bain (who co-created NPS), with five CEOs talking with passion about the Net Promoter system.

I like the emphasis on using NPS to strive for greatness, how the voice of the customer should make it safe for everyone to do the right thing, and maybe best of all, the importance of breaking NPS out of the marketing ghetto and the metrics-and-measurement mindset. 


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