A Guide for CEOs: Their Responsibilities in Improving the Customer Experience


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Since founding Beyond Philosophy some seven years ago, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of CEO’s across many diffident industry sectors, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Over the years, sadly, I have that only about 20% of CEO’s are really committed to improving their Customer Experience and making their organisations Customer centric. The other 80% break into two groups.

40% say they support a new Customer initiative but they are not really committed. You can see it in their actions. Typical the signs are

  • Not being available to discuss implications
  • Wanting to spend limited time on strategy
  • Not being actively involved
  • Lack of understanding of implication
  • They only speak ‘inside out’ language, what is good for the company
  • All examples are ‘inside out’ no Customer stories
  • Limited time spent with Customers

These are just a few….

I know that CEO’s are busy people, but if this is a key initiative then it deserves a person time as we are normally talking about changing the culture of a company and that culture change starts at the top.

Sadly the other 40% could not careless, and any initiative is doomed to failure from the beginning.

We have a policy of challenging all of our clients at the beginning of any engagement. We ask, “Are you serious”? Our advice is very direct, if they are not then we do not waste their time or effort. Surprise surprises the engagement that works are the ones where people are serious.

It is not a matter though of asking people if they are serious. As one client put it, “What Senior Executive in their right mind would say the Customers are not important”? You need to hear them and see their actions, or lack of actions.

Therefore when I read Bruce Temkins, Forrester’s excellent blog on CEO’s I thought this went along way in articulating my thoughts as well.

Bruce’s insights on the key role of CEO’s in Customer Experience are spot on:

  • The focus on customer experience must come from the CEO’s clear belief that it impacts business results . It is a core business imperative, not a “nice to have” initiative.
  • Since customer experience provides real financial benefits, it’s worthy of investment. The CEO’s willingness to invest in these areas is a clear signal to the organization that customer experience excellence is critical; not just an empty slogan.
  • People focus on what’s measured, incented, and celebrated. To embed customer experience within the core operating fabric of a company, therefore, firms need to refine what it measures, incents, and celebrates. So make sure that your HR exec is involved in the customer experience effort.
  • Any customer experience transformation needs to be driven by the voice of the customer; so CEOs should look for a customer experience dashboard with a handful of customer metrics (like satisfaction or Net Promoter). And hold your entire executive team accountable for improving those metrics; don’t offload the responsibility to a chief customer officer.
  • This effort requires the active involvement and commitment by the CEO. Why? Because transformation efforts can easily get bogged down in politics and silos. So reviewing progress of the firm’s customer experience efforts needs to become a regular part of the executive agenda.

I would add a few of my own:

  • People need to “get it”. The concepts behind the Customer Experience particularly that over 50% of an experience is about emotions are not accepted instantly by people. The CEO needs to realise that time and patience are the order of the day.
  • After spending time coaching and showing people how to become more Customer focussed if they still refuse to buy-in to this new thinking, the CEO needs to remove that person. This will also send a strong message to everyone in the organisation.
  • The CEO must talk about Customers constantly, visit Customers frequently and listen to their Customers making changes as a result of the feedback.
  • Most importantly the CEO must tell Customer stories. These bring to life the effect the organisation is having on Customers.
  • For me the CEO must be bold. Don’t be scared to try something new. The new Best Buy Twelpforce is a great example of that.
  • Finally and most importantly, if the CEO is not serious, don’t bother. It will do more harm than good, from a leadership perspective, than you will be entering into this half heartily.

I hope this helps. I would suggest that if your CEO is not operating in this manner, somehow make sure your CEO see’s this post and maybe, just maybe, it will help them realise what they need to do to change.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.



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