There is no doubt that creating a competitive advantage in today’s business environment is about much more than having great products and attaching the right price tag. With informed customers expecting much more, CEOs are turning to customer experience (CX) strategies to build the kind of sustainable advantage that leads to business outcomes and long-term success. To establish and maintain CX as a critical business strategy, the direction and discipline naturally starts at the top.
In other words, today’s successful companies need customer-focused CEOs.
What exactly does it mean to be customer-focused? It’s a good question—one that was asked in a recent study by my firm. Through our research, we identified companies that recently experienced double-digit growth and compared them to those with little or no growth. The analysis revealed the following seven key customer-focused behaviors and viewpoints that are more common with CEOs who lead higher-growth firms.
Insights are strategic. For customer-focused CEOs, customer experience is not simply a program where customer ratings and satisfaction scores are compiled. Instead, it is a holistic strategy. It’s about using customer insights to drive decision making at all levels—informing organizational structure, business model innovation, go-to-market strategy, and investments in innovation.
The long term is what’s really important. In today’s volatile business environment, it’s difficult for CEOs to look beyond the quick wins that boost quarterly earnings. However, more often than not, CEOs who are focused on customers are willing to set aside short-term financial gain for a longer-term benefit to the customer. Knowing that positive, sustainable results won’t happen overnight, these leaders resist the urge to change course midstream.
The broader customer story matters. Too often, companies become fixated on Net Promoter Scores and other metrics that don’t reveal the whole story about the customer. Customer-focused CEOs display a true desire to understand broader customer needs. With objectivity, an open mind, and a wealth of customer intelligence, they engage across the customer base, digging deep to identify common issues, trends, and needs.
Coordination happens across silos. It takes real effort to circumvent the organizational silos so prevalent in businesses today. Yet improving the customer experience can’t occur unless people and departments work together to get the job done. CEOs understand this and play the ultimate role in creating an environment in which collaboration among functional areas is encouraged—and even expected. They foster teamwork and advocate open-source environments that encourage the sharing of improvements that deliver value to the customer.
Empathy is encouraged. The customer-focused CEO changes the way employees see the customer. By communicating the value of customers, CEOs cultivate empathy for customers among employees, which in turn motivates associates to be customer-centric. This attitude starts with how the CEO talks about the customer and asks questions, whether it be formally in meetings or work groups or informally in the hallway or over lunch.
Information and advice are sought. Customer-focused CEOs want to know how to strategically gain or elevate competitive advantage using customer insights. With this in mind, those who are the most customer-focused proactively seek out such knowledge. Whether in conversations with customers or in meetings with their executive leadership teams, these CEOs are regularly requesting information, asking questions, or seeking advice about how to improve customer relationships.
Resources are allocated wisely. For customer experience to create a business impact and drive a competitive advantage, funding and resources must be committed to execute the strategy and funneled toward key areas of focus. For customer-focused CEOs, CX is an essential investment. What’s more, they make sure those in charge of CX have access to the people and data they need to get the job done.
Do you see these characteristics in your CEO? Or, taking it further into the organization, do other leaders—division presidents, C-level executives, members of your management team and board of directors—exhibit these traits?
For any company in any industry, competing on customer experience isn’t a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when,” or even perhaps, “how soon.” And it is the enlightened CEOs who recognize the benefits of a sound strategy that prioritizes the customer experience.
Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading customer experience consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.