Who’s the most important person in a company?
If you’re thinking it’s the CEO, think again. To borrow a line, it’s the customer stupid.
What customers think of you – or more accurately, how they feel about you – is the number one predictor of future business growth.
A new paradigm for CEO’s
According to Mark Leiter, Chairman of Leiter & Company, a strategy, consulting and investment firm, the primary focus of corporate leaders last century was delivering a high quality product. This made sense, as quality was the main way customers differentiated between brands.
That’s no longer the case. Advances in technology and product testing have seen quality issues virtually disappear among market leaders. These days, customers distinguish between brands based on how they feel about them.
For this reason, the number one priority for today’s CEO is delivering exceptional customer experience.
The best corporate leaders already recognise this, seeing themselves, foremost, as advocates for their customers. A good example is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. In the company’s early days, he’d place an empty chair around the table at every board meeting. It was there to represent the customer, providing a constant reminder of exactly who should be at the forefront of decision making.
The need for a fundamental shift in thinking
For others, adapting to this new paradigm requires a fundamental shift in thinking.
CEO’s of major companies haven’t traditionally considered customer experience part of their job. Generally, they saw their role as more like a ship’s captain. After deciding on a destination and strategically planning a course, they’d monitor progress, navigating any storms that blew up along the way. Day to day operations were left to various management teams. The other major part of the CEO’s job was ensuring these teams functioned well.
This old school siloing mentality can get in the way of a successful customer experience strategy. This demands wholesale cultural change, such that putting the needs of customers above all else becomes part of company culture.
Without CEO involvement, transformation of this kind is impossible.
Change is coming, like it or not
The good news is, most CEO’s sense that change is in the air.
According to Forbes, 97% of corporate leaders consider customer satisfaction the key to business success, while 90% believe customers have the greatest impact on their business. This translates to 93% of CEO’s who say that improving customer experience is among their company’s top priorities.
Yet, good intentions can only take you so far. While revenue growth is significantly higher at companies where the CEO is directly involved in customer experience, currently, only 56% of CEO’s are participating in customer experience activities.
This begs the question, why are so many failing to adapt?
Having dealt with a fair few CEO’s – both from the old school, as well as more forward thinking types – I reckon it usually comes down to a personal preference among the dinosaurs for the old way of doing things.
Many of these individuals owe their success to a combination of supreme analytical skills and keen strategic judgement. This served them well in a world where businesses competed on quality, something inherently quantifiable. The same attributes are less useful in a world where brands are competing to establish an emotional connection with their customers, while striving to outdo one another for empathy and authenticity. For those who prefer concepts that can be depicted on a graph, these intangibles must be terrifying.
Whatever the explanation, while most CEO’s seem to appreciate the need for organisational change to improve customer experience, too many are looking to tick this box through initiatives that are localised within ‘customer facing’ teams. This avoids their personal involvement, but it’s an approach that’s destined to fail.
Transforming a corporate culture, so that everything you do is directed to understanding and meeting customers’ needs can’t happen unless the CEO is on board. For corporate leaders this doesn’t come naturally to, it’s a matter of evolving, or fast becoming redundant.
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