An interesting issue emerged during my recent presentation of the results of customer experience diagnostics to a B2B company. Top clients of the company indicated that, unlike other vendors they work with, my client does not have executive sponsorship of the relationships. When I explained the concept of executive sponsorship of key accounts, the participants seemed unclear. I found out why during the break, when one participant said, "I can't see our CEO even thinking about such sponsorship. I can't see him hopping on a plane to our top clients."
This response, unfortunately, is not uncommon. We see the same pattern with companies around the world. The CEO makes a big declaration about the importance of a customer strategy, and then disappears. The customer strategy at this point is assigned to midlevel managers, who are supposed to come back with a bullet-proof, financially justified strategy that will differentiate the company in the marketplace. And, of course, generate immediate profits for the next quarter. The CEO will then emerge, after multiple VPs have reviewed and tweaked the new strategy, to bless the new strategy in a public way.
My response to this game is a primal scream. Are you kidding me?
Customer strategy is the strategy of your company. You can't delegate it to others. Even as consultants, we can't love your customer for you. This is what every CEO should be intimately involved with, yet the majority are missing in action. What can be more important than your customer strategy?
If it is so obvious, why are CEOs avoiding involvement? There are several reasons:
They underestimate the size of the problem.
They are unwilling to take ownership. Many executives are accustomed to the role of delegator, which often means not owning any responsibility and always pointing a finger at others.
They lack the skills and capabilities to address the issue. Many CEOs came from finance or operations and are unaccustomed to dealing with live human beings. This is new to them.
They fear change. Change sounds big and disruptive. CEOs will try to keep it small and incremental.
They have the mistaken perception that customer strategy is all about attitudes and training of customer-facing staff.
They fail to understand that their saying a change will be made does not mean it will miraculously occur.
They have a strong belief that they know everything already.
Such behavior only reiterates further how unimportant strategy is to the CEO and how uncommitted he is. At an engagement with a potential client, we mandated that we would have direct access to the CEO. The CEO approved the budget but refused the request for direct access. We walked away from the engagement. Confused, the CEO shared with his executive team what happened. In a rare moment of truth, the executives told the CEO that we were right. "We are good at sitting around a conference room table and agreeing with each other," they said. "But when we leave the room, we do our own thing. We are siloed and you are the only glue at the moment." I commended them for their honesty, and the CEO reversed his decision.
The message to every CEO is quite simple. There are no shortcuts. There are certain things you can't delegate. Your customer strategy will not be carried out without your direct involvement. The miracle of differentiated customer experiences being executed flawlessly while you are MIA will not happen. Your commitment must be shown at a high frequency as you engage with the work. Borrowing an analogy from Las Vegas casinos, if you have high hopes for the new customer strategy, you can't just throw one chip on the table and hope to win big. You must be "all in." Miracles do not happen unless you work hard to make them happen. And the time to do that is now.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience transformation firm. Arussy is the author of five books, including Customer Experience Strategy—The Complete Guide from Innovation to Execution. Follow him on Twitter @LiorStrativity.