It is a question I get a lot from customer service leaders. They are convinced there is a missed tactic that, if implemented, would have the C-suite camping out in the contact center and inviting customers to board meetings. When I outline a number of possible approaches—translate CS yardsticks into the metrics of the bottom line, provide concrete links between customer affinity and the ROI, find ways to bring the voice of the customer into the conversations in the boardroom–they usually tell me, “We have done all that.”
It reminds me of the legendary retailer, Les Wexner. I was working as a consultant with Victoria’s Secret. The hottest product about to be launched was the “Perfect Silhouette bra” patterned after the look of the pinup star of World War II, Betty Grable. The plan was for a controversial NBA star to lead the edgy ads for the bra. CEO Les Wexner, founder of Limited Brands (now L Brands), the parent company of Victoria’s Secret and renowned as a very savvy entrepreneur, wanted to place a very large order of a million bras to sell in the stores and online.
The head of marketing asked to get some time with me on one of my consulting visits to corporate headquarters in Columbus, OH. The meeting was held in a conference room with the entire marketing leadership team. “We have done dozens of focus groups with our customers to test market this bra,” I was told, “and customers say they hate it. And the idea of a provocative NBA star as our pitchman, they find offensive. We can’t get Les to seriously consider the view of our customers.”
“Have you done your very best to convince Les that customers will likely reject this product and promotion?” I asked the group. They were confident they had. “Who gets paid to make this call, the marketing staff or the company leadership? They all agreed it was the CEO’s call. “You have done your job and are convinced you have done it well; now give him the space to do his job,” I advised. Wexner changed his position; he ordered two million bras and the NBA star did the ads. The Perfect Silhouette bra was a major commercial success.
Operations leaders love operations with the same passion that customer service leaders love customers. The finance leaders embrace the arithmetic of the organization with similar devotion. Ask a top salesperson which is more important to the growth of the company and they will likely tell you new prospects, not current customers. The office of the CEO is where all disciplines come together to direct the organization toward its mission. It is the melting pot of business paradigms; success is in the execution of that brew.
Remember the riddle of the three blind men encountering a large strange animal at different parts of the animal’s body—is it a snake, or a rope, or a column? They needed combined perspectives to figure out it was an elephant. I believe smart organizations are customer-centric and have spent a career beating that particular drum. It is my job is to champion that perspective to the best of our ability. I believe it is also my role to give the CEO the space to do her job.