Why We Must Do the Customer Math and Practice Leadership Bravery

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I’ve had the great honor of working with Southwest Airlines for many years and spent a lot of time talking to, not only Herb Kelleher, but Colleen Barrett who was the president (now president emerita). Once, I was talking to Colleen, and what she said was: Jeanne, at almost every board meeting, we have to fight to make sure that we don’t let those fees seep in, that we don’t start charging change fees or luggage fees, because that’s the foundation upon which people believe in us. And that’s our integrity. And so we got to keep watching that.

Especially those things you hold dear, hold on to them, honor them and have this lens. Part of what happens is that people will look at a spreadsheet and say, “We can get $50 million more out of customers if we do this little up-charge.”

Well, yeah, that may be good for today, but not for tomorrow’s customers who are going to potentially walk away from you.

I have clients who have lost $50 million customers for $200 change fees.

So sticking to your guns in your integrity, around your decision making really does bind you to customers.

Do the Customer Math

One of the things that we often do in this work is ask people how we’re doing and that’s our survey score. But honoring the customer as the asset also should come from measuring, “Are they responding with their feet, in terms of staying longer? Bringing more people?”

So one of the things I encourage you to do is customer math. Did we gain volume and value? Did we lose volume and value? And what’s our net customer asset growth? As a result of the experience we delivered? Did we earn the right to grow?

This is why I love the story of Bonobos. Bonobos is a really intriguing company; they actually create what they call “guide shops” where you go in and try on the stuff but it’s just for trying it on. But what they know is: to a specific degree, the lifetime value of their customers, because understanding that really helps you you know and honor them and take care of the life. But what they know for example is based on how many touch points, once a new bonobos customer either starts in a guide shop or places their first order online, the lifetime value in the growth of that customer.

So what I encourage you to do is, besides listening in terms of your voice of customer surveys, do the operational listening. Understand how many calls people make in, where they are waiting, what they’re working toward, and then look at the behavior of if they rise or fall in their asset growth with you.

Now, this is interesting, because this is an attitude shift. It’s not a dashboard, it puts you in a position to honor that your customers.

Prove Your Values Through Your Actions

Practicing leadership bravery really has to be done with these actions to think about.

How can you prove with actions? The key is to wire these into your DNA. I’ve interviewed lots of amazing people recentlyTom Peters, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, etc.—and our conversation is all around sustainability of these heroic actions.

Now that we found a way to be very human—we’re on zoom calls in our living rooms, we’re making very human actions and behaviors that kind of go out of the bounds of our normal norms of operating—how can we make sure we don’t lose that humanity? The next thing is really do that math, know your agent and customer value, and then use that in a way to let people make the call.

I used to fly millions and millions of miles. And I had, for example, 5 million miles with American Airlines. And one day, I lost my Admirals Club card.

And I went in and I asked the agent, “Could I have another Admirals Club card?”

And it wasn’t her fault, the agent was boxed in. She said to me, “That’ll be $250, please.”

You will send people packing. Customers will wonder, “Don’t you know how much I mean to you?”

Finally, build that proactive outreach. When we look at those operational metrics, make sure you’re not doing anything inadvertently that’s reducing the lifetime value of your customer. Our responsibility everybody really is simple: it is to improve lives.

Leadership Bravery earns and builds the kind of company that builds human and financial prosperity. And yes, growth.

How we choose to correct something that goes wrong—how steadfast we are, in delivering the goods, ensuring quality, and giving our people what they need—sends a signal to our customers, to our partners or employees in the marketplace, about who we are and about what we value.

Choose Leadership Bravery

It’s about choosing and our collective choices. So choose. Choose to enable your people to thrive, to build the best version of themselves, and enable them to make these congruent decisions which you’re already doing. Just elevate it consistently on an ongoing basis across your organization.

Choose to make it easy to do business with you build in respect delivery.

Choose to help customers achieve their goal reorient the operation of your business around the customer’s life and their goals and redefine how you measure success.

And finally, choose to practice that leadership bravery that separates you from the pack and builds those stronger and deeper relationships with your customer.

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