Over the last few years, I have contacted a number of CEOs of organisations I have personally interacted with. Although I do not intentionally seek out experiences that fail to meet my expectations, on the occasion where I have an experience that really ‘irks’ me in some way, I feel that it is necessary to let the person ultimately accountable for Customer Experience understand my pain (metaphorically speaking of course!).
I have not actually counted the number of CEOs who have received an email from me, but with the help of the extremely useful online resource, ceoemail.com, I think I am almost up to a dozen. It is important to understand why I choose to email a CEO. I am not looking for compensation or some form of sweetener to make up for a substandard experience. As a result of what I do for a living, I believe it is essential on occasion to let leaders learn from the unsatisfactory experiences that are often delivered by their organisations.
I recognise this sounds awfully patronising, but I am not intending to be so. I am no more educated that the next man or woman – nor am I the global expert on Customer Experience. However, I am a huge believer in the need to share experiences – both positive and negative – so that other customers may benefit from the knowledge gained from either the exceptional or disastrous experiences I have.
Since 2012, in all of the direct contact I have made with CEOs, my strike rate – i.e. the number of CEOs who have responded to my contact themselves – is 0 (zero, nil, nada!!). You are reading that correctly – not a single CEO has actually responded to my contact themselves. That is not to say I have received no contact all. Most of the time, I have been contacted by a person from the ‘directors office’ – a mythical organisational department who act as the mouthpiece for their ‘far too busy’ senior leaders (I am being a little sarcastic here) – there have been one or two instances where I have received no contact at all.
Although I have never been the CEO of a large organisation, I can empathise with how ‘jam packed’ their working days must be. As a self-employed Customer Experience specialist, I barely have the time to respond to phone calls and emails – and I only have myself to answer to! However, if a customer takes the time to actually locate your contact details and describe an experience in great detail, I consider that some form of personal response is not too much to ask. Delegating the task of responding to someone else – whoever they may be – automatically deems the correspondence to be of little importance.
A couple of weeks ago, a CEO restored my faith – my faith in leaders who actually have the courage to respond to something personally addressed to them. The CEO in question is Dame Carolyn McCall – the CEO of the UK based airline, Easyjet. If you have not come across them, to put the size of the organisation into context, In 2014, EasyJet carried more than 65 million passengers, making it the second-largest airline in Europe by number of passengers carried, behind Ryanair.
Carolyn (I hope she does not mind me using her first name), has been CEO of Easyjet since 2010 – she is also one of only 5 female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies. This is an extremely busy person – although I would imagine, she is no busier than any other CEO – regardless of industry or gender!
Last year, I had a particularly harrowing experience with Carolyn’s airline. As I will often do, I wrote about my experience – if you are interested, you can read about it here. At the time, I ‘tweeted’ the blog to Easyjet – the response I received was rather uninspiring – in fact, all the advisor did was relay Easyjet’s terms and conditions to me – I was not impressed. However, rather than choosing to email the CEO, on that occasion, I chose to do what many customers will – to STOP being an Easyjet customer.
Over the last few months, as a frequent flyer, Easyjet have missed out on approximately 25 flights worth of fares from me. I have had many opportunities to fly with them, but have specifically chosen not to. However, a few weeks ago, I finally faced into the inevitable – to get to my desired location at the required time would mean I would not have a choice – I would have to fly with Easyjet again.
Having customers interact with you begrudgingly is never a good thing – having a reluctant customer then be party to a shambolic experience again is even worse. Whilst I did manage to get to my desired location with Easyjet – (I will not bore you with the details), the experience triggered me to email Carolyn McCall. I felt that it was time she had the opportunity to see just what was happening to her customers. I wrote an email to her describing both my experience from last year and what I had just witnessed. In the email, I pointed her in the direction of my blog post. Like every previous occasion, I was not confident that the CEO would respond.
Carolyn McCall proved me wrong – very wrong. Not only did I receive a response, I did so from Carolyn McCall herself. Carolyn did not hide behind the safety of her keyboard either – she picked up the phone and called me – personally. To say I was impressed is an understatement. Listening to her voicemail message, I could hear the concern and sincerity in her voice – I immediately knew that this was a person who cared about customers. When I did get through to her office to speak to her, I enjoyed (yes enjoyed) a lengthy conversation with her about my experiences and the importance of continuously improving them for me and others. Carolyn was incredibly authentic – she had researched both of situations I had been in. She did not sympathise with me – she did what many leaders are unable to do – she empathised with me. She did not make excuses or defend – she acknowledged and supported.
What Carolyn McCall demonstrated to me is that she is a customer focused leader with a huge amount of courage. It amazes me how many leaders have never met a customer – or will do whatever it takes to avoid doing so. These leaders could learn a huge amount from Carolyn. Being a customer centric leader requires a lot more than just TALKING about it. Here is what customer centric leaders should be doing – continuously:
- Making direct contact with customers, regularly
- NOT a royal visit to the contact centre occasionally
- Accumulating expertise in customer centricity
- Learning from the best and sharing best practice
- Facilitating true empowerment
- Crossing boundaries to generate enterprise-wide results
- Breaking down silos or sponsoring “networking” initiatives
- Measuring success differently
- Focusing on incremental progress and “quick wins“ but with the “big picture” in mind
- Communicating and living by customer-centric values
- Finding time for “conversations” with staff about Customers
- Making and sponsoring un-profitable decisions that are right for the customer
I hope other CEOs read this article and take inspiration from Carolyn’s actions. I am optimistic that more will emulate her going forward!
This post was originally written exclusively for my column on CustomerThink – a global online community of business leaders striving to create profitable customer-centric enterprises. The site serves 80,000+ visitors per month from 200 countries.
You can read my column here!
Reads well, Ian, and I’m sure Ms McCall was very happy with it. Her own PR team couldn’t have done a better job. However my experience is completely different and I’m still waiting for an acknowledgement – let alone a reply – to an email I sent to Ms McCall nine days ago. I can only infer that she is about as interested in customer service as those beneath her in the EasyJet hierarchy have proved to be.
Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment Chris. I guess this demonstrates the challenge and danger of inconsistency. As I have written in the past, some leaders respond to every complaint without fail – have a read of this about John Roberts of ao.com – https://ijgolding.com/admin/2015/06/22/lessons-in-authentic-leadership-from-ao-com-its-not-first-time-resolution-its-personal-resolution/
I will forward this on to Ms McCall and see if I can help you get a response.
So sorry, but I think you got the call because of the blog not because Ms McCall is that customer-centric.
Hi Jarrod – you may be right. However, it is still the case that she is the only CEO to ever contact me (and I have blogged about many companies). What is more likely is that I sent her my email and blog at the right time. Whatever the reason, it still takes courage to contact a customer in the way she did and not enough CEOs are prepared to do the same.
I wrote to customer services at Easyjet Luton on the 2 August 2016 about the fact that despite arriving at Gatwick 2 hours ahead of checkout and checking in our baggage and going through customs we were unable to catch our flight to Cyprus and had to hang around the airport for over 9 hours. Which is no joke for a 70-year old with a heart condition and his 73 year old wife. It took us two days to get over the ordeal. We travel to Cyprus at least twice every year to visit our villa so we are old hands at flying. Today it is 4 October 2016 and still no reply to our letter. Disgusting!!!!!
I sent an email to Dame Carolyn last Friday and haven’t yet even got acknowledgement of the receipt of it. It may be in spam, she might be on her hols, but I remember sending a note to then old Post Office CEO (the one before Adam Crozier) and receiving a response straight away. I’ll push it through customer services and ask them to forward on if I don’t have a response by tomorrow. I’d love to come back on here to update you with an endorsement!
Please do Malcolm – I am going to be talking to her and her management team in January – the more ammunition I have, the better!
When I sent an email message to Carolyn McCal about bad service I had received from her company to be fair to her she did pass it on to someone in customer services. However that proved to be a waste of time as he would take no responsibility for the bad service. I again sent an email to the EasyJet CEO and did not receive any response.
Last May I incurred expenses because my EasyJet flight to Spain had been cancelled due to EasyJet having no one to fly the plane. I wrote to Easyjet enclosing my receipts and 6 months later no response. Despite several calls to a hopeless customer service I have got nowhere. I finally emailed the CEO and 2 weeks later not even the courtecy of an acknowledgement, I am appalled with the lack of customer service from this company.
I am on an easyjet flight right now.
While many airlines I have taken in the past have had issues (we were shedualed for take off at 530pm tonight) the staff on this flight is completely untrained in customer service and quite agressive, not wanting to interact with clients in a positive way or even respond to requests. One very polite child even began to cry at the stewardesses gruffness
I flew from Gatwick to Lisbon and returned to Gatwick from Porto using EASYJET. My suitcase was locked with one of those USA government approved padlocks, When I collected my bag on arrival in Lisbon, and when I collected it on arrival in Gatwick the padlock had been unlocked. I reported it to the baggage handling company at Gatwick they referred me to Easyjet. It is too much of a coincidence that my bag was opened with a key on my outward and return trips through Gatwick. It is almost impossible to get contact information to make a complaint to Easyjet. I eventually received an email from someone in Easyjet customer services ignoring the fact that my contract for moving me and my bag was with Easyjet, ignoring the fact that I had told Easyjet that I had reported it I the baggage handling company at Gatwick and stating that I should contact the baggage handling company, without providing contact info. How do I contact Easyjet CEO? How do I warn others not to use such padlocks unless going to USA, and perhaps not to use Easyjet or Gatwick?
Hi Jim – you can find the email address for EasyJet’s CEO and any other in the UK on this very useful website – http://ceoemail.com/ – I hope you get a response!
Hello, I am X Gatwick Flight Supervisor and take no sides. However, Easyjet served around 4,276,821 passengers a year and weather, passengers or other errors can be reasons of flight delays or cancellations.
Gatwick and Luton are busy airports and easyJet could not take responsibility of each airport’s issue, such as lack of staff or slow security service.
There are 4276821 passengers and if only one percentage of travelers complained, it still a big number to respond back. CEO McCall has a difficult period, because of Brixit, pound fall and the company has a huge financial hit. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38728917
Easyjet is low-cost module and has most of A320’s aircraft, to be fair, to operate each of it cost in average between £8000 to £9000, every delay is additional fee towards the airport and fuel rapidly growing. Aircraft could not wait each passenger, it is too expensive. If an airline will wait each of passenger, it will bankrupt. The less airlines will led to higher a seat price and less destinations, which is not win-win situation.
Easyjet’s ground handling agency is Menzies. Menzies is american company and security is priority number one. I know some people personally, know procedures and standards. Each of the member of staff pass Disclosure check and crime conviction, includes driving penalties. Each of member of staff earn in average £11, which is much higher than the UK minimum. It is the risk of lose the job which not worth of pick-pocketing coins, especially in such the strict organisation as Menzies.
absolutely the worst company i have ever had to deal with she clearly does not care about customer service and i find your blog a total insult holding her on a pedestal when she clearly instils the dishonest, lie’s her rude customer service team adopt when dealing with a complaint.
Hi Ross – many thanks for taking the time to read the post and for adding your perspective. All of my articles are written as a representation of the situation at the time. I cannot comment on whether or not an individual or company I write about has remained true to what I experienced. If you would be interested in writing something for me to publish, sharing your unacceptable experience, I would be happy to consider doing so. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are from Canada and on a recent trip to the U.K we received literally the worst customer service in the history of our lives from any company on the planet. When we phoned to complain we were told to put our complaints in an email and send them. Nothing like putting the responsibility back on your customers.
Really… a CEO interested in us the paying public/? Why is it then that she has failed to respond to my email over the last two weeks?
Answers on a Post Card please , seeing as I am unlikely to get an e-mail!
Hi Darryl – many thanks for sharing you current experience. It does appear as though there is an increase in ‘angst’ (for want of a better description) with EasyJet at the moment. I will advise them to keep reading the comments being posted to this article. I hope your issue with them is resolved soon.
I have just written to her directly – and got a very quick reply from someone in the “executive customer care team” – this person had not bothered to read the email I sent (which took 20 minutes to write) but instead persisted to ask me questions like I was on trial. Insinuating my complaint was purely about compensation when it was actually about the poor service received. I told him to go away and get someone else to contact me once they bothered to read what Id written. Easyjet couldn’t be bothered because they know we have little choice – shoddy attitude.
Well here goes…..
I have just written an email to Carolyn highlighting absence of promised refund (due to be delayed for over 3 hours post scheduled departure time) – refund has been due for a month now and have asked that she assign to someone to close out for me. Its 250 euros so not trivial money.
I have a feeling that the email boxes they use are monitored by ‘robotic processes’ which could explain why I get canned responses asking for the same information (though all signed with various exotic names which adds a nice touch)- being a low cost airline I understand that they have to reduce operating costs somehow- though its not a good experience when the process does not work and you don’t get any replies at all- not any money in the prescribed bank account.
So- will update when I get a reply- I have my fingers crossed as I reside in Australia so have no intention of sitting on a phone call for hours hoping to get through to someone. 🙂
Wish me well.
Update: Carolyn has passed on my email to the support group who have been in touch and asked for my particulars and have triggered the request for the refund- should take 7-10 working days to go through. The support representative advised Carolyn had passed on my complaint for him to look after. So emails definitely get a reaction.
Hugh from Executive Support has been responsive to working on getting my refund through- had a few delays in receiving the refund through to my Australian account though in the end I received via my French account.
So in summary- Ms McCall reacted to my email and forwarded it to the appropriate group to manage and the matter was successfully resolved. Can’t ask for anything more 🙂