CEOs already have plenty to do, but Oracle chief Mark Hurd is suggesting they take on one more task -- becoming customer experience evangelists.
In a recent column, Hurd challenged conventional wisdom that argues once your customer satisfaction ratings hit the 95 percent mark it’s a waste of money to spend more effort on that last few percent of the customer base. Conventional wisdom says those customers can’t be pleased so you should just move on.
Hurd insists that conventional wisdom is antiquated. In today’s interconnected world, customers control everything and even a few unhappy customers in the lot can be costly. With all this in mind, Hurd is pushing the customer experience evangelist envelope.
An Oracle survey revealed 81 percent of executives surveyed realize that active social media processes and culture are essential to their success, yet only 65 percent offer social channels for sales and service. Where’s the disconnect? The respondents pointed out three challenges: inflexible technology that can’t handle modern social tools; siloed organizations that can’t adapt to rapid external disruptions; and insufficient funding.
“As I look at those three obstacles -- core technology, organizational structures, and budget priorities -- it’s clear that they can’t be overcome by a feisty social team, or a hard-charging sales leader, or even by a forceful finance chief,” Hurd said. “No, those barriers to becoming a truly social business that can deliver superb customer experiences can only be knocked down by the CEO.”
As Hurd sees it, CEOs need to make customer experience a top priority across the company -- and central goal of transformational efforts that attack those three obstacles before they transform from inconveniences to dangerous and devastating threats.
It’s the Brand They’re Buying
We caught up with Lisa Arthur, CMO of Marketing Applications at Teradata Corporation, an enterprise analytic technologies firm, to get her take on Hurd’s stance.
As she sees it, CEOs are employees of the company like everyone else, and customer experience should be a central focus across the board. Everyone in the C-suite -- CEOs, CIOs, CMOs, etc. -- should reinforce that the customer experience is the company’s central focus and also ensure that the brand is considered and delivered at every customer touchpoint.
“In a company of 1,000 people, there should be 1,000 customer experience evangelists. Why do you think the marketing automation category is expanding so rapidly? Because customers are demanding a better and better experience. They want brands to which they are loyal to know them, their preferences, etcetera,” Arthur said.
“While data and applications can make the customer experience better and more personalized, it’s the brand they are buying -- not a CEO. Delivering what’s expected is a cultural and operational mandate that operates on genuine trust. Some companies are known for excellence in this area while others are not.”
Engaging Your Customers
Dan Farkas, an instructor of Strategic Communication at Ohio University, told us Hurd's comments make complete sense for two reasons. First, many people are strong advocates of transformational leadership.
“The idea is to turn employees into people who embody your spirit. Anyone can talk about being a customer experience evangelist,” Farkas said. “When Hurd lives this and showcases this kind of perspective, it provides a massive heap of validation to the change process.”
Second, he noted, there’s all sorts of data out there suggesting that younger people appreciate and expect to have a flatter communication pattern with organizational leaders. A CEO doesn't have to respond to every single tweet.
“Younger people will recognize and reward those companies that engage with customers. It's smart business sense, and I would argue it's moving from nice to necessary in many industries,” Farkas said. “This is especially so in the technology field where there are limited barriers to entry and where the user experience and review process play a heightened role.”
Turning Customers Into Evangelists
Kenneth Epstein, vice president for C3: CustomerContactChannels, a provider of customer service management and training solutions to Fortune 500 companies, told us it is absolutely is the CEO’s job to be a customer experience evangelist. That, he said, is because when the top person makes customer service a priority, it will then filter down to everyone in the organization who will deliver on the promise.
“Smart CEOs know it costs far less to retain a customer that it does to acquire a new one. There are many companies that invest millions of dollars to build their customer bases, yet many times, as quickly as new customers are coming in the front door, existing customers are exiting the back door,” Epstein said.
“In today’s competitive marketplace, customers not only expect value, they expect a good experience with the companies they choose to do business with. And when they have a good experience, they can be turned into evangelists themselves and go out of their way to tell anyone they know how much they love a company or product. Nothing is more compelling than that.”