The importance of communication from the top

Posted on February 16, 2017

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sundar-pichai-by-james-martinEvery now and then you see the story of a CEO who has taken time out to reply to a member of the public appear in the press. Usually, these are oddities and cute stories. Take the case of the 7-year-old who has just had a reply to her job application from the CEO of Google as an example. These stories warm the heart; make you see that CEOs are human; and make you wonder why they don’t happen more often.

And yet many CEOs do take the time. Easyjet CEO Carolyn McCall receives 500 emails a day, and yet she’ll find time to answer to the most important ones from customers. “When we get it wrong, I want our customers to know we’re trying very hard to get it right.”

Some CEOs go even further. Paul Barber, CEO of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club, receives similar numbers of email each day. He replies to all fan emails, often taking matters further. “Let’s have a coffee in the New Year if you have time. It’s a lot easier than typing!” was his response to a recent complaint from a fan.

Spending time with customers is something those at the top the business need to spend more time doing. At present, CEOs estimate that they spend just 20% of their time with customers. Is that enough? More time is spent on data analysis. Yet real customer interactions can never replace the dashboard of sales data that a CEO might be faced with every Monday morning. Real interactions give insights into customer journeys and the whole gamut of emotions and rational decisions that get made as customers move through the buying cycle. As McKinsey have demonstrated, understanding the journeys customers go through can be far more enriching than the pure mastery of data. They give you an insight into where one might innovate. The same is true for the understanding CHROs need to have of the employee journey and how that experience needs to change.

So this is my plea to CEOs, get into the weeds with your customers and employees. It pays in designing an experience that they will value. Bosses like Charles Horton at Southern Rail could take note of this approach. As he approaches a revolt from unions, employees and customers, he has a desperate need to reconnect with pretty much everyone. Because, brands are experiences. Take a look at this take on how McDonalds might turn around their brand, not by appointing a new Ad Agency, but by looking at the detail in the customer experience. Brands are an experience, and that experience is something CEOs need to get as close to as possible.

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