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Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Customer Care

How Do You Get the CEO to Care About Customers?

Is there a method you’ve missed?

Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 12:01

Iam often asked by customer service leaders how to get the CEO to care about customers. 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 customer-service 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’ve done all that.”

It reminds me of the legendary retailer, Les Wexner, renown as a savvy entrepreneur. 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. Wexner, CEO and founder of Limited Brands (now L Brands), the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, wanted to place a large order of one million bras to sell in the stores and online.

The head of marketing asked for some time with me during one of my consulting visits to corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. 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, and customers say they hate it,” I was told. “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 what 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 I have spent a career beating that particular drum. It is my job to champion that perspective to the best of my ability. I believe it is also my role to give the CEO the space to do her job.

First published Jan. 19, 2021, on Chip R. Bell’s website.


About The Author

Innovating Service With Chip Bell’s picture

Innovating Service With Chip Bell

Chip Bell has helped companies dramatically enhance their bottom lines and marketplace reputation through innovative customer-centric strategies. For the sixth year in a row, Global Gurus in 2020 ranked Bell as one of the top three keynote speakers in the world on customer service. Bell has authored 24 books; seven are international best sellers. His latest book, Inside Your Customer’s Imagination: 5 Secrets for Creating Breakthrough Products, Services, and Solutions, shows how co-creation partnerships enable you to tap into the treasure trove of ideas, ingenuity, and genius-in-the-raw within every customer.