CEO engagement and involvement is critical to delivering on that promise, added Kathwari, who is proactive about encouraging a customer focus. “Every week, I have 30 of our management associates give me examples of how they have wowed the customer in different parts of the country. Something small, but it focuses everybody to think about how they can wow the customer.”
At Synovus Financial, Chairman Kessel Stelling employs a similar practice. “We start every one of our weekly executive management committee meetings by going around the table and asking, ‘What happened in your area that caused us customer impact this week?’” he explains. “We don’t wait till the end of the meeting if we have time; it’s first thing.” While the conversation unearths some uncomfortable truths—a slowdown in response time, for example—the overarching impact is a raising of consciousness about service across the organization broadly, he says.
Tom Rogers, former CEO of TiVo, finds personally monitoring customer service complaints helpful. “The thing that I’ve found most valuable in terms of staying on customer service experience issues is having your name as CEO on the website for customer complaints,” he told his peers. “People use it. If you’re not getting firsthand exposure and aren’t able to put problems forth at meetings and be totally conversant with the nitty-gritty of the issues, they just don’t get the focus and spotlight they deserve. They’re a pain in the ass when they come into your box, but really it’s the only way to stay on top of that stuff.”
“From top down, it’s very important [to] put the CEO’s name or address somewhere for the customers to access,” agreed Tianquan “Vincent” Mo of the Internet real estate company SouFun Holdings, who pointed out that web-based companies often struggle to excel at service.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the perception that a CEO is shirking his or her role in the customer experience can scuttle a company’s reputation, noted Peter Verrengia of FleishmanHillard. “Micky Arison was pilloried as the head of Carnival Corporation when they had two fires and they [capsized] a ship and killed 32 people,” Verrengia recounted. “He didn’t go personally because he had a chief operating officer who knew a lot more than he did and was a lot closer to the situation. But that did not turn out to satisfy anybody involved at the time.”
In fact, thanks in part to companies like Amazon, Zappos and Uber, customers are demanding higher degrees of service on more levels than ever before. “The world’s expectations for customer service are increasing every couple of months now,” summed up Rogers, who pointed out that Amazon, alone, has upended service expectations.
“You’re dealing with people touching a company that has such extraordinarily ability to deliver on customer experience that the bar is being raised in ways for every other company exponentially, compared to the speed of which it was raised before. That combination of perception, creation and expectation increasing doesn’t make this a question of can you afford to do this. It’s just a must.”