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!