First the CEO must Serve Customers

“CEOs must embrace the role of serving as the public face of the company to their customer community and the marketplace at large.” – Simon Mainwaring

Customers are the reason for a business, they are the lifeline of a company, and they are the ones that keep the cash registers ringing. The growth of any company depends on creating and buiilding relationships with prospective, existing, and even former customers. Companies now are seeing an unprecedented surge in the number of competitors and hence need to find new ways to attract, connect with, and retain customers. We have mentioned earlier that in order for customer service to be successful, everyone in the company must have a role to play. Since employees emulate what the leaders do, we believe that first the CEO must serve customers, and only then can company expect all others to follow suit. If one were to observe carefully, companies that are hugely successful today are led by CEOs who understand the complexity and the power of leading the drive towards serving customers, yet fully appreciate the value of the simplest gestures and actions in a consistently accelerated digital world.

Despite the importance of CEOs being the first to serve customers, this skill and effort seems to be lacking in a very high percentage of top Fortune 500 companies. The strange part is that the mission and value statements of these companies show immense respect for customer service, the actual commitment to and expertise in this crucial function, narrate a diametrically opposite ‘tale’. The fact is that to gain such insights and expertise, companies cannot rely purely on data got from market research. This is because customer needs, feelings, and expectations change regularly and fast, and hence data that may have been accurate ‘yesterday’ may not remain valid for too long. To display passion and commitment to customers, company representatives must meet customers wherever customers deem appropriate and comfortable. In order to get everyone in the company inclined towards serving customers as they expect, first the CEO must serve customers and thereby lead by example.

CEOs must make it a practice of undertaking customer home visits and regular visits to the stores of the company. By doing so, they would discover whether the people responsible for directly connecting with customers are doing so consistently, and if not then ensure that this be made non-negotiable. In order for the employees to follow, the CEO must serve customers by interacting with them and the employees, regularly. However, given that the CEO is the top person of any company, it would be necessary to understand the percentage of time this person must spend in customer service interactions. There is perhaps no fixed answer or figure that can be attributed to this, and the percentage of time that a CEO must spend on this crucial activity would depend on some factors. Under usual business circumstances it would depend on the overall strategy of the company, which in turn would be based on the kind of business and industry the company operates within.

We know that customer service is an intense, high-pressured, and hugely stressful role, and keeping the frontline staff motivated would be critical for any company. Hence, irrespective of whether it is possible to gauge accurately the percentage of time that a CEO must serve customers directly, the fact is it is essential. The key is ensuring and encouraging customer engagement and emotional connections – and this happens based on the quality of the numerous interactions a company has with its customers to learn how best to personalize service and customize offerings. While a CEO must serve customers, this top person must also refrain from spending too much time interfacing with customers. The reasons are simple – promoting the company and marketing its products are the prime tasks of the marketing teams and the individual leaders of the function and units. The CEO should not need to do their share of the work – this important person should be involved only at the final stages of big and important deals. In addition, by spending too much time interacting with customers, the CEO would probably not be able to do justice to the core job and other important aspects of the business. While CEO must serve customers, she or he must strike a healthy balance between managing the internal affairs of the company, remaining at the helm of tough situations and decisions, with the more visible aspects such as direct customer interactions. A good CEO must first be capable of leading, coaching, and mentoring those who report directly to the position, and be a good role model for all those who work in the company.

A CEO must serve customers, but she or he can do so indirectly as well. It would start with creating a culture of service through the mission, vision, and values of the company. The compan must make it a point to hire people with natural aptitude to understand and be empathetic with customers and their fellow workers – it would be easier to teach people a job than instilling feelings of care and service. The CEO must keep the company’s focus on service to customers by rewarding exceptional performance, such that the employees who may display strong attributes in this realm remain encouraged, while others are goaded into rising to the top standards of customer service. A CEO must serve customers, and can do so consistently without actually spending too much time on direct interactions. The idea is to ensure that each person in the company be willing to go above and beyond for customers. Even the smallest and seemingly insignificant actions taken by a CEO can have a major impact on the commitment levels of all employees. They would know that if the CEO of the company can do small things to make customers happy, they can too – nothing would be small or insignificant for them either.

Given that a CEO must serve customers, but also balance their own time. The key is getting and sustaining the efforts of employees to pay constant attention to customers and their needs. The CEO could start by being at the helm of a few strategic customer service initiatives, which would not only benefit customers but also lead to enhanced sales and growth of the company. These initiatives must be benchmarked against current trends and based on what the company’s competitors may be doing, and the aim must be to forge ahead. The next step would be to learn and understand from customer insights and feedback. Customers may not be providing feedback, but when pointedly asked for their views through formal and informal surveys, they would be willing to divulge more about what they believe the company would be doing well, and what would need improvement. Understanding these needs and expectations, would help the CEO to guide and provide direction, while taking suggestions from employees on what the best solutions would be.

For a CEO to successfully be seen as serving customers, she or he must take the time and make the effort to truly understand the inherent capability within the company in the realms of marketing and customer service. It is therefore, also necessary for the CEO to have a good understanding of the people who work in the company. In order to serve customers, the CEO must first know the people who directly lead marketing and service endeavours. The fact is that without customers and able employees, no company and CEO can be successful for too long. If the CEO must serve customers, she or he must first know how, and what it would take to ensure that each person within the company understands the importance of being kind, caring, and empathetic to customers and each other.

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