Take this quiz: Is your CEO really committed to customers?

This is a guest post from Jeanne Bliss — customer experience expert and author of “I Love You More Than My Dog.” See more like this post on her blog.

Most Chief Executive Officers outwardly commit to customer loyalty, customer focus, and just plain improving things for their customers. It’s getting them to drive the company to do something about it that’s the challenge. A number of telltale signs determine pretty quickly whether a company is serious about the job or not — beginning with the CEO and leadership and cascades all the way through the ranks of the company.

Specific leadership actions occur in companies that have taken the commitment past lip service. Understanding customer issues and what drives customer loyalty become the stuff of everyday conversations. The issues are trended and understood and talked about. Building customer experiences and relationships is considered the true work of the organization — not something layered on the “real” work of achieving quarterly sales goals.

Chief Executive Officers that drive this work understand that it’s the inspiration, leadership, and organizational change that are the sticking points in making progress.

CEO has personal ownership

A CEO leader on a customer mission takes responsibility for driving value for customers and improving the customer experience. This is not something jobbed out to someone else to do. Although they will need a lieutenant to help drive the work (because they have an entire company to run after all), the CEO is an engaged and active participant.

Commitment Questions 1 and 2:

1. Does your CEO clearly articulate what he/she wants the company to become for customers and constantly reinforce and drive the company in that direction?

2. Is there a commitment for organizational transformation, not some one-off tactics and silver bullets?

The CEO makes the customer champion an officer of the company

Because these leaders recognize that this is organizational transformation, they grasp completely that it will not happen with a public proclamation and a great kick-off memo (sad, but true — how many of us have received those?). It’s understood that they need an executive level partner to bring the transformation about.

The point about making the customer champion an officer is not an insignificant one. When the customer effort is considered a strategic priority, the work simply needs to reside at that elevated level. An officer level caliber leader is needed to drive the action and the company will take their cue about the work’s importance from the title in the organization box.

Commitment Questions 3 and 4:

3. Has the CEO layered this work onto someone’s already over-full plate, or is there recognition that this is a critical job for the organization that requires an immense time commitment?

4. Has the CEO ensured that the customer champion is an officer of the company with the full support and engagement of the CEO, leaders, and the organization?

There is clear and regular accountability for customers

This is a huge sticking point for the work. CEO’s who get this demand regular accountability for the sole purpose of identifying and tracking progress with the customer agenda. The metrics and performance requirements are clear. Regular accountability means, for example: trending and tracking customer complaints by category and setting metrics for improvement. Regular accountability means that customer losses are understood and accounted for and explained. Regular accountability takes the key customer interaction points down to operational metrics which the CEO tracks as fervently as the number of products sold — because in those moments experiences are made or broken.

Commitment Questions 5 and 6:

5. Does your CEO actively hold people accountable for customer performance? Is there clarity in what’s expected, and does the organization practice discipline around identifying what should be measured and managed?

6. Are forums for accountability regularly scheduled and enforced as a key strategic meeting for the success of the company?

They provide political air cover

Committed CEO’s provide the necessary political air cover to drive the work ahead. They bring around the non-believers of the customer effort. Because this work traverses across the organization, the CEO steps in when necessary to course-correct and drives the action when it stalls. These CEO’s don’t sweep the naturally competing silo priorities under the rug. They are acknowledged and the gnarly work is done to determine where the agreements must be made, where the compromises must be set, and where the new lines of accountability must be established.

Commitment Questions 7 and 8:

7. Does your CEO commit time and resources to be a solid partnership with the customer leader?

8. Does your CEO play an active role in understanding and participating in the rigor of aligning the company when necessary?

There is corporate patience for the work to take hold

This work is not for the mild-hearted or the quarterly inclined. Everyone needs to understand that becoming a ‘customer’ company is a multiyear endeavor. They can’t bail in the first year because the results don’t come as simply and cleanly as seeing response rates on a marketing campaign, tracking sales goals, or the number of hits on your website. The CEO must personally have the belief and commitment that this is the right course.

Commitment Questions 9 and 10:

9. Is your CEO committed to the timeline required (in the neighborhood of five years), and are they willing to suspend the usual short-term expectations of immediate results to have patience for the customer work to take hold and yield results?

10. Will they sustain the patience inside the corporation and with the board to stay the course so that results can be achieved?

They demystify the roadmap and suspend the disbelief

The corporate ‘nay-sayers’ will be quick to voice that this work has been tried before and failed. But committed CEOs have grasped all that and factored it in. And since it’s all been considered, there is a clear plan — an achievable plan that is laid out before the organization. A reality-based roadmap is established, funded, followed, and followed up on.

Commitment Questions 11 and 12:

11. Are the stages, expectations, and processes to drive the work identified realistically and planned so people understand the roadmap, where it is leading, and why it is set forth?

12. Have the resources been applied so that the roadmap is grounded in the reality of what the company can achieve and fund?

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About Jeanne Bliss

As “Chief Customer Officer” for Lands’ End, Mazda, Coldwell Banker, Allstate, and Microsoft, Jeanne got “customer” on the strategic agenda, earned 98% loyalty rates, and changed experiences across 50,000-person operations. Jeanne now runs CustomerBliss to create an actionable path for profitability and business growth -- through earning customer and employee raves. Her best-selling books are Chief Customer Officer and I Love You More than My Dog: Five Decisions that Drive

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