We once had a client
who developed a novel approach to connecting senior-level management with customers; bringing the ‘customer experience’
being delivered directly into the C-suite. This organization required each senior executive a to spend a minimum of
2 hours each month listening in on calls being handled by their customer service team. Even more outrageously innovative,
each senior manager was required to be “on call” one day each month as the “Officer of the Day”.
Their purpose? To become involved and to resolve any issues that arose from customers who required an escalated response.
Now we should immediately explain that this client was in a hi-tech B2B environment and that each customer
account therefore represented hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in sales and service. But even in industries with
a lower spend, customer lifetime values will still generally justify this sort of attention. The concept of listening
and participating in customer interactions is one that is a valuable experience to senior executives in virtually any major
corporation. After all, when was the last time most senior executives really spent time truly understanding what it
was like to be their customer; using their brands, products or services? How is it interacting with the procedures,
processes, and people of their organization?
Senior Team Is Just Too Busy!"
Some might say that the time of their most senior executives is much too valuable to be “wasted”
listening to customers on the phone or riding along with a sales person as they meet face-to-face with customers. But
just think about that.
As part of consulting assignments, on several occasions we provided senior managers
with what we called “the out of box experience”. We literally ordered their product online, and brought
the package in to open-up before their eyes in a conference room. We found some surprise at how the product was packaged,
but we witnessed heated discussion and finger-pointing as the assortment of documents that accompanied the product were reviewed.
“Who authorized THAT to be in the package?” “Who approved that copy?” “Couldn’t
we find better quality paper or cardboard on which to print an enclosure that carries our brand name?” “If
a customer responds to this, who handles it, and where do we capture those responses?”
So, Maybe It Wouldn't Be a Waste of Time!
Executives at many big companies have become far too removed
from the everyday experience of their customers. What little they do hear is often filtered by through several levels
within their organization and no doubt has lost most of its ‘punch’ along the line. After all, even if their
immediate reports learn about weaknesses in the structure, raising questions and being the bearer of bad news is often not
a great career choice.
But spending time listening to customers or riding along with a sales rep could:
- Reveal internal impediments – those being faced both by customers and by internal customer service and sales staff
as they attempt to better serve customers
- Provide an unfiltered view of the reality of the customer experience - that typically
doesn’t reach senior management.
- Strengthen executive credibility and humanize them as business leaders – (assuming
the listening is positioned and executed as joint learning and not as a threat to staff).
- Build empathy
for customers and staff - rather than considering them only as assets and liabilities.
As logical and as simple as instituting an Officer of Day
program is, we're constantly amazed at the rigid and provincial thinking that often stymies such progress. On a personal
note, we once had a friend who was having terrible problems with a new American-made automobile. Neither the local dealership
nor the manufacturer's regional zone office were showing any empathy or willingness to assist. We encouraged our friend
to escalate the issue to Detroit and the C-Suite. Reaching a senior executive's office, our friend was told by the gate-keeping
admin, "Don't you know, Presidents of American companies have far more important things to tend to,
than talking to customers!"
Let's hope they see the light, and begin to understand who keeps
their companies in business!