When’s the last time you talked to one of your customers? Not read a report or sat in on a focus group, but shook hands and talked with a customer.

If you can’t recall and you are the owner, CEO, or other senior executive of an organization then you might have a problem. One simple leading indicator of whether a company is customer focused can be seen in the behavior of their top executives reaching out to customers directly. It’s also a leading indicator if that company will flourish or disappear.

I recently purchased some Bluetooth running headphones from a small technology company in Colorado. They turned out to be defective. I was getting frustrated with the almost-nonexistent customer support so I tried to find the name of the owner. That proved to be somewhat challenging as his name was not listed anywhere on the website except in a promotional video. When I finally did hunt him down via a variety of Internet tools and sent him a friendly email pleading for help, I did not receive a reply from him. I did, however, get quick resolution from their customer support after that point. Why did it have to be that way?

On the other hand we find those organizations who successfully stay connected with their customers. I’m sure these organizations have good VOC programs, but their leadership also gets out and talks with their customers.  In short, their leadership LEADS.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, would regularly pop into stores across his vast network to check in on the store and talk with customers. His visits weren’t with an entourage that buffered him from his constituency, just him and his old Ford pickup. He just wanted to stay connected to his customers and make sure they were happy with the prices, services, and products his stores were providing.  He did the same with his employees.

Not long ago Pope Francis, fed up with being cloistered in the Vatican, took to sneaking out at night, avoiding his security detail, to help the poor. He also dumped the bulletproof Popemobile, feeling it distanced him from his flock. Delta CEO Richard Anderson is known for getting out and meeting customers, gave up his seat to a passenger so she could get home on time.

You can see this intimacy in thousands of small restaurants, shops, and hotels across the nation who have proud and passionate owners and a genuine interest in their customers’ well being. For the ultimate in “connecting” with customers go to any rock concert where the performers get out and talk with thousands of fans at a time and aren’t afraid to get off the stage to interact.  Wow.

The customer experience doesn’t stop after people open the box, buy the service, or walk out of the store. It continues long after that initial transaction as customers continue to interact with your brand well into their ownership journey. Great leaders of truly customer-centric organizations get that. It’s about getting out there and finding out what is really going on, not counting money behind a desk and letting the “front line” be the sole touch point for the customer.

So today give that customer a call or stop them in your store and say “thanks.” It’s not hard.  Ask them what they like and don’t like and most of all listen. Oh, and thank you for reading…let me know what feedback you have for me as well.

CX Wisdom from the Pope

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