I see you over there, CEO. You’re the one who’s all business – presiding over meetings with your singular focus on the numbers and the results, and that cool appearance that broadcasts to all that you mean business – only business.
But, at the end of the day, are you looking beyond the dollars and cents, to that emotional connection that brings the most loyal contingent of America to shower your company with hard-earned loyalty?
You may know the financials, the daily revenues, and the people. But do you know, and more importantly feel, the business the way your customers do?
Deciding to be emotionally disconnected from the business, may, in theory, seem to be an appropriate path. But it’s disingenuous to the way commerce is conducted today – and too much isolation from the nuts and bolts from your business can be unhealthy – or worse. Here are some real-world examples that illustrate this paradigm:
- A recent report documented the case of an airline chief learning in an employee meeting about how customers were impacted by a particular design element of a new model of airplane to the company’s fleet. Though we will give some points to the chief for attending the employee meeting, it was reported that the CEO found it difficult to understand the design issue being raised – because they had never flown on that particular model of aircraft on their own airline. Not so good – because they had no way of understanding what their customers were experiencing.
- On the flip side is the report about a different new airline chief who chose to immerse themselves into the job in a rather unique fashion – refusing the kind of VIP tour usually reserved for the top brass, they instead decided to experience the airline like a non-VIP in each city to which they traveled. This CEO donned a Day-Glo vest for safety purposes and walked, unescorted, into work areas like baggage and tarmac, talking one-on-one to staff and, in the gate area, to customers. Direct, one on one, unfiltered contact with customers and employees. It’s amazing what they learned, and more importantly, the respect they created with both groups.
Lest ye think that a connection borne of personal, intangible feelings is hard to quantify within your business, think again. An eye-opening Harvard Business Review study drew a solid line from the heart to the wallet, finding that emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as those who are simply satisfied with your product or service.
But it’s understandable: Becoming disconnected from the customer experience happens to all of us, despite our best intentions. We are busy with the pressures of day-to-day business. The board meetings, the team meetings, travel to remote parts of the company’s sales territory and outlying facilities can make us feel like we are indeed busy -- but are we really “in touch”?
We need to maintain our “fingertip” grasp on the business – at the point where we can have a “tactile” understanding of how it feels emotionally to be a customer of our company. Do we experience the “delight” of unexpected great service, or the resentment of being treated poorly?
Here are four rules to live by to stay emotionally, viscerally connected:
- Walk in your customers’ shoes. To continue the above analogy, if you are an airline chief, try sitting in Row 36B on a trans-continental flight. You’ll very quickly understand the experience. I’m not saying Row 36B is a bad product. In fact, it might just be the right product – a tight seat for a low price – but at least you’ll understand the value proposition.
- Listen to your customers. A business head I know spent an entire morning once each month sitting with headphones on in the call center – a different call center location, every 30 days. It was a huge amount of time for that executive, but after a morning of listening, they had a stronger grasp of their customers – well beyond the statistical report of call times and positive/negative comment ratios they received each month. The quantitative data is essential – you can’t run a business without it – but try “flavoring” it with the real-time, real-people feedback.
- Disconnect from the routine to get the real “picture”. This is perhaps the hardest for all of us. Sitting in a call center, or talking with an employee or customer, and repeatedly being interrupted by phone calls, or texts, or worse, “checking” in on your phone, gives up the value of the emotional experience, not to mention what it says to employees or customers who are there.
- Think of these experiences as a complement to quantitative information. Some people go the other way, and will elevate an offhand conversation with one customer to a “fact” that applies everywhere -- when it doesn’t. But, taken bit by bit, each experience of walking in our customers shoes builds a picture of how we are doing in our company, how competition might be serving similar customers, and brings up ideas for improvement on the never-ending road to excellence. Not to mention, again, the credibility with your team when you demonstrate how anchored in the customer reality – their reality – that you are.
You may already have engaged in some, or all, of these exercises, as the committed leader of your company. But I’ll bet the pressure of time, and other issues, has crowded out these activities. Make today the day you renew your commitment to the emotional side of your business. Start with these four rules. Carve out some time to experience your company the way your customers do. It will be emotionally satisfying -- and can have a surprising impact on growing the business.