Are you ‘on the tools’ fixing your customers problems? You should be.

Tool Users

I was reading a post the other day about Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, and how he introduces himself as the company’s customer service representative. It reminded me of a friend Stefan Topfer, CEO of Winweb, and what he does everyday. I’ve written about him before in this post: Does your CEO deal with customers directly?. Suffice it to say, he’s ‘on the tools’ every day dealing with customer queries and problems.

Seeing such examples, I find myself asking: Why do CEOs like Craig and Stefan do that? Why do they spend time with their customers and personally handling their questions and queries every day? I think that it’s got a lot to do with the fact that in doing so they:

  • Keep in touch with their customers;
  • Gain a huge level of insight that no amount of market research or feedback from their team could give them;
  • Become more aligned with their employees and understand their their daily work more; and
  • Gain insight into how the ‘nuts and bolts’ of their business works on a daily basis.

Thinking about this a bit more, I found myself thinking about the programme: Undercover Boss. It first appeared on Channel 4 here in the UK in 2009 but has since been franchised to seven more countries, including the US and Canada.

Now, I like this programme. I love some of the stories that it uncovers and the fact that it makes many of the employees the real heroes of the stories. But, it always concerns me that, in many cases, it seems like such a transformative experience for many of the CEOs and senior managers that get involved.

As a result, I often wonder how that level of ‘distance’ has been created between CEOs, senior management and their front-line employees. Is it to do with culture? Is it to do with how we organise our work and our organisations? Is it to do with a perceived ‘best use of my time’ idea?

In a world that is increasingly being driven by customer service and customer engagement, isn’t it about time that we re-evaluate the question ‘what’s the best use of my time’?

I believe that spending more time directly with and helping your customers should be right at the top, or near the top, of every boss’ list.

If it’s not then are you just paying lip service to being more customer centric and wanting to deliver more and better service to your customers?

Photo Credit: Kaptain Kobold via Compfight cc

11 comments On Are you ‘on the tools’ fixing your customers problems? You should be.

  • Great post and topic.
    We have encouraged many of our clients..owners of small to medium sized businesses ($250,000 to $5,000,000 sales) to have their personal Cell phones posted…
    Amazing what an increase in repeat sales and new sales that choice has deklivered

    • Hi Chuck,
      Thanks for your comment and sharing your experience. I’ve had similar experiences. Amazing indeed and even more amazing that more CEOs and leaders don’t do it.

      Thanks again for your comment,


  • Great and interesting post! I always believe that being a hands on boss not only create or establish a long term relationship with your employee but you are actually building a loyal and extensive relationship with your customers or clients. You will not only be notified of the day to day operations but you will also learn and gain the trust and confidence of your employees and customers.

  • Hello Adrian

    What can I say? I find myself to be in total agreement with you. It occurs to me that when Tops spend time on the frontlines they get a better picture of the world as experienced by their frontline employees and their customers.


  • Adrian

    In a large organisation, say a FTSE 100 there will be something like 5 or 6 steps between the CEO and the shop floor

    If you believe (even in part) the six degrees of separation theory then that level of distance will connect you with the world.

    These guys are a long long way from what happens on the shop floor. They will only get there if they make the effort to go visit.


    • Hi James,
      I agree with you that it is up to them. Another great example was Terry Leahy and what he did at Tescos and look at the results and insight that he gained. I wonder if Phillip Clarke is following in his footsteps? Looking at their results, maybe not?


  • I couldn’t agree with you more, Adrian. I wrote about this a year ago ( I agree that it’s baffling on that show how CEOs are so surprised by what they see. Executives are out of touch with both employee and customer experiences – perhaps it comes from traditional leadership teachings and a focus on shareholder value?

    Executives need to get out of their ivory towers and get to know their employees (and their experiences) and their customers (and their experiences).

    Annette 🙂

  • Very good post. I definitely appreciate this
    website. Thanks!

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