Even when they have the best intentions, CEOs can fall out of touch with their customers. But it’s never too late to reach out again and get to know your customers on deeper, more meaningful levels. That way, you can make products and services that resonate with them.
Spend quality time with customers.
You might be the busiest person in your company (and feel like the busiest person in the world), but you have time to get to know your customers. What could be more important?
Great leaders know how to free themselves from the mundane and spend quality time with the people they value. Start by carving time out of your managerial duties to empower your employees to take ownership of their work. Use that newfound time to go covertly into your stores and interact directly with customers.
Think like Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who received an email from an unhappy customer about the low-quality hold music on Apple’s customer service line. He chose to investigate the matter himself and tested the music out. He responded directly to the complainant and took action to make it better. Make it your responsibility to solve your customers’ pain points.
Visiting your store is just one way to interact with your customers directly so you can understand them beyond the revenue they provide. You could hold focus groups and hear firsthand how your consumers would react to the new product in the works. You could open a public email address like Jeff Bezos did, or even put a hotline in every store that goes straight to your desk, like Umpqua Bank’s CEO Ray Davis.
Develop your social media presence.
Social media isn’t just for your Millennial employees. Though it might be a scary prospect, the 2015 CEO has to get involved on the ground level, and that means being social. Social media is at the center of how consumers acquire information and communicate with one another. Globally, 80 percent of CEOs are engaging on social media, YouTube, or company websites, according to a 2014 study.
Beware, though: It’s all too easy to make mistakes. Many CEOs have made missteps on social media and, even though they had no malicious intent, have received backlash and lost customers because of it. Just in case, get yourself an expert to help you develop a social media routine.
Try to respond to everything directed to you and get a member of the PR team to proofread your posts before you publish them; then have fun. Share articles that inspired you, invite feedback about your company’s latest product, and ask customers to share their tips with each other.
Inspire customer focus throughout your company.
A leader’s job is never done. Once you’re in tune with your customer, you need to pass that mindset on to every member of your team. It’s your responsibility to instill customer-focused values in your company by actively looking out for it in the hiring process, by regularly holding customer-focused meetings, and always reminding the team about its responsibility to its customers.
Howard Schultz provides a strong example. He knew that for Starbucks to remain a customer-centric company and succeed, every member of the organization had to be “personally accountable and responsible for the outcome of every single customer interaction.” He held a conference in New Orleans for 10,000 store managers in an effort to inspire a leadership mentality in each and every one of them.
Address issues quickly and directly.
Connection to your customers becomes especially important when something goes wrong. You need to get to the customer level fast to analyze the problem and solve it quickly enough to maintain your customers’ trust.
Learn from the mistakes of car manufacturers like General Motors, which had to fire 15 members of its team after a series of ignition switch calls. Big problems can and need to be addressed by the CEO to inform the public that the company is taking responsibility and making things right.
Nothing makes customers feel more important than when CEOs address them directly. Reaching out can have widespread positive implications, not only from a PR standpoint, but also by generating positive word-of-mouth interactions and, ultimately, revenue.
Get back in touch with your customers. It might have been a while, but they’re the reason you’re here and it’s never too late to retrieve the intimacy you had with them when you first started. Both your customers and your business will thank you.
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By PJ Bickett, president of MU/DAI.
Cover Photo: Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail, a romantic comedy-drama film.