Lessons in authentic leadership from ao.com: It’s not First Time Resolution – it’s Personal Resolution!


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lessons in authentic leadership

Social media has truly changed our lives in so many ways. For me personally, the last few days have demonstrated how the influence of what we see online has affected the way businesses operate. I had the pleasure of delivering a keynote speech at an event for a financial services company on Thursday. I was invited to speak by an ex colleague who I had not seen since 2001!!! It was all made possible due to the power of social media.

Last week also saw the UK media rife with stories about fake online customer reviews. I strongly believe that it is vital for consumers to exercise the right to voice their honest opinions online. Consumer reviews combined with expert or specialist reviews will always combat the fakes (in my opinion). What people say and see online has transformed the way we make decisions – and the way in which companies determine and design their customer experience strategies.

In my line of work, one of the other things I also love about social media is the fact that it often throws up ‘nuggets of pure gold’ to be able to share with others. Last week, someone in my network shared a letter they received from the CEO of a very impressive online business based in the UK. It has impressed so many, I think it is important to share it with an even wider audience. If you have not seen it yet, I am sure that you too will be impressed.

The business concerned is called ao.com. If you have not heard of them, their story goes like this – In 2000 – John Roberts, CEO, was in the pub with his friend, who bet him £1 that he couldn’t sell appliances online – he took up the challenge. In 2001, John launched Appliances Online, the group’s first website selling white goods. By 2014 they had been voted number 4 in the Times 100 Best Mid-Sized Companies to Work For, and they won the Customer Service Initiative award at the Oracle Retail Week Awards. In 2014 they also floated on the London Stock Exchange. On their website they say that ‘everything we do revolves around our devotion to happiness and amazing customer service’!

John Roberts - Founder and CEO of ao.com

ao.com is a business that seems to be completely authentic to this statement. Independent review sites are glowing in customer feedback. When you read this, you will understand why. The letter shared on LinkedIn was from a customer of ao.com. This particular customer had been the recipient of a less than satisfactory experience with them. What John Roberts chose (and regularly does so) to do is fantastic – he personally wrote and signed a letter, with a genuine and heartfelt apology. John did not ask a personal assistant to do it….. or a team from his ‘directors office’ – he did it himself. You will need to read his words to understand the full effect of his authentic leadership:

Apologies that this letter has been slow to reach you but I’ve been away from the office for a couple of weeks and like to sign the letters myself, after all…… it’s personal!

You were generous enough to trust us with your custom and your hard earned money so I thought it only right to personally write to you to apologise for letting you down.

It may not have felt like it through your experience but we take customer service very seriously. We care passionately about our customers. You are the heartbeat of our business and only delighted customers provide us with the fuel for any future success.

Many companies will ‘accept’ a tolerance of failure on the basis that they deliver a huge amount of orders. We do not.

Since day one of our business we’ve understood that things may go wrong occasionally but the real measure of a company is making sure that the customer is put right. I am never interested in who was right or wrong; only that you leave us happy knowing that we really do care.

I’m sorry for the confusion with our price match cashback promotions. I can see you have now been in contact with Anthony, who has apologised for this and refunded you £69.98.

I hope you will receive my personal apology in the sincere and heartfelt manner in which it is sent. We are gutted to have let you down and hope you will trust us again in the future

I don’t know about you, but I believe every single word. You can see the original letter below – John even underlines the word ‘gutted’!!!

ao com letter.jpeg

The recipient of this letter said in sharing it that John Roberts had created a ‘customer for life’ – I do not blame him. I am so impressed, that I will almost certainly look to ao.com in the future. John Roberts is an example to any leader – CEO or not. If you genuinely believe in the importance of your customers, they will believe that you do actually care. I always say how important it is to empathise with customers. Empathy leads to advocacy. Advocacy leads to loyalty. Loyalty leads to growth. I am so pleased to be able to share such a brilliant example of it in action.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Golding, CCXP
A highly influential freelance CX consultant, Ian advises leading companies on CX strategy, measurement, improvement and employee advocacy techniques and solutions. Ian has worked globally across multiple industries including retail, financial services, logistics, manufacturing, telecoms and pharmaceuticals deploying CX tools and methodologies. An internationally renowned speaker and blogger on the subject of CX, Ian was also the first to become a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional) Authorised Resource & Training Provider.


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