The CEO’s (Key) Role In Customer Experience

I recently discussed Ken Thompson’s impact on the customer experience at Wachovia. That post highlighted this excerpt from his “letter to shareholders” in Wachovia’s 2004 annual report as a blueprint for CEO’s who want to transform their company’s customer experience:

Our longtime shareholders will recall, however, that it was not that long ago – 1999 – when our customer service had slipped, and we learned a hard lesson in customer attrition. One of my first actions when I became CEO in mid-2000 was to tackle service quality. We increased staffing levels in our financial centers, call centers, and operations area. We revised our incentive compensation plans to emphasize not only sales performance, but service as well. We instituted a clear measurement system to track customer satisfaction through our Gallup surveys of 60,000 to 70,000 customers quarterly. And I chair the monthly meeting of senior managers that ensures we quickly address any operational or system issues that create obstacles to providing good customer service.

The power of these words may have been dampened by the length of the excerpt, so I dissected it into components that are critical for CEOs…

“Our longtime shareholders will recall, however, that it was not that long ago – 1999 – when our customer service had slipped, and we learned a hard lesson in customer attrition. One of my first actions when I became CEO in mid-2000 was to tackle service quality.”

=>Insight for CEOs: The focus on customer experience (or, as it is called here, service quality) must come from the CEO’s clear belief that it impacts business results (in this case, retention). It is a core business imperative, not a “nice to have” initiative.

“We increased staffing levels in our financial centers, call centers, and operations area.”

=>Insight for CEOs: Since customer experience provides real financial benefits, it’s worthy of investment. And the CEO’s willingness to invest in these areas is a clear signal to the organization that customer experience excellence is critical; not just an empty slogan.

“We revised our incentive compensation plans to emphasize not only sales performance, but service as well.”

=>Insight for CEOs: People focus on what’s measured, incented, and celebrated. To embed customer experience within the core operating fabric of a company, therefore, firms need to refine what it measures, incents, and celebrates. So make sure that your HR exec is involved in the customer experience effort.

“We instituted a clear measurement system to track customer satisfaction through our Gallup surveys of 60,000 to 70,000 customers quarterly.”

=>Insight for CEOs: Any customer experience transformation needs to be driven by the voice of the customer; so CEOs should look for a customer experience dashboard with a handful of customer metrics (like satisfaction or Net Promoter). And hold your entire executive team accountable for improving those metrics; don’t offload the responsibility to a chief customer officer.

“And I chair the monthly meeting of senior managers that ensures we quickly address any operational or system issues that create obstacles to providing good customer service.”

=>Insight for CEOs: This effort requires the active involvement and commitment by the CEO. Why? Because transformation efforts can easily get bogged down in politics and silos. So reviewing progress of the firm’s customer experience efforts needs to become a regular part of the executive agenda.

The bottom line: Customer experience success requires CEO nurturing.

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

6 thoughts on “The CEO’s (Key) Role In Customer Experience”

  1. Bruce, I know I am late in posting but just read this. This is very good, well done. In my experience t0o many CEO’s pay lip service to the CE. One CEO told me that “who in their right mind would not say that focussing on customers is the right thing”. Unfortuanteky there is a big difference between words and actions. The CE is a long term project, which as you say has revenue benefits, but only if it is lead from the top.

    Colin Shaw
    http://www.ExperienceClinic.com

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