Does your CEO deal with customers directly?


Creative Commons License photo credit: Ingrid Sørensen

Last week, I got a call from CEO of WinWeb, fellow blogger at The Small Business Blog and friend, Stefan Töpfer, about a blog post (I’m the CEO, Sorry!) that he recently wrote about an experience that he had had with one of his customers.

Now, Stefan interacts with his customers on a daily basis and makes it part of his role as he feels it is essential to understanding his customers and the issues that they face. In the post, he explained that on a couple of calls he explained that he was the CEO of the business and this was met with shock and consternation and that he was left feeling like he had to apologise for being the CEO.

What I think is interesting is why some of us think that CEOs (or, even, senior executives) don’t deal with customers? Is that because that’s what we’ve got used to or is it because we don’t think we’re important enough?

Personally, I think it’s something that we’ve got used to and have come to accept that that is the way that things are done.

Perhaps, that’s not the best way.

If we look at the former CEO of Tesco’s, Sir Terry Leahy, who is widely credited with responsibility for Tesco’s massive growth over the last 14 years. He turned Britain’s third biggest supermarket into the world’s third biggest food retailer in just over a decade. In an interview with The Independent a couple of years ago they put it this way:

“Leahy is a marketing genius, though he claims that all he has done is listen to the customers.”

Now, I’m not saying that WinWeb is as big as Tesco’s but I do know that they are growing very quickly and that this strategy is paying off for them, just like it has for Tesco’s.

Interesting?

Does your CEO, or you as CEO, deal with your customers directly?

No? Why not?

Many people might say that it may not be the best use of a CEO’s time. I would dispute that. Why? Well, if the above information is not enough data for you. Consider this: What way to get better, un-distorted, straight from the front-lines, market research and customer feedback than to deal with your customers directly?

Now, I’m not advocating that every CEO does this every day. Sir Terry Leahy reputedly spent up to 40% of his time talking to customers and in store. But, just think the sort of insight that you could develop if you did this on a regular basis.

Also, imagine (once they got over the shock) the impact on your customers, your staff in your store or in your call-centre or on your help desk or at your sales meetings if you kept showing up. In a recent column in The Financial Times, the impact on Tesco’s staff was:

“Sir Terry conveyed a sense of direction to his workforce and convinced them – by the amount of time he spent on the shop floor and listening to customers – that he understood people’s jobs and cared about what they were doing.”

As CEO, what are you now going to do different? Or, how will you get your CEO in front of your customers more often?

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