Leadership Required: Why the CEO needs to lead strategic recognition

Reinforcing behaviors that create exceptional customer experiences

This is my second in a series of posts focused on the essential role the CEO plays in both employee and customer experience initiatives.

You already know that when employees consistently deliver great customer experiences, you’ll not only create and retain more loyal customers, odds are you’re going to keep your star employees as well. But how do you engage team members to deliver on your vision and ensure the desired brand experience is lived every day? Through strategic recognition.

The CEO’s role in experience management is to drive consistency, to ensure employees at every level understand their role in delivering the customer experience (whether they’re on the front-line or in a supporting role), and to reinforce the very behaviors that differentiate the organization from its competitors.

A CEO can leverage strategic recognition to:

  • align employee attitudes and behaviors with company values
  • engage individuals to consistently share, recognize, and repeat best practices that impact business results,
  • create learning opportunities through storytelling that helps to replicate high-performing employee behavior and supports the company’s business strategy.

How is this done?

#1. Create a culture of accountability.
Design the customer experience by defining non-negotiable behaviors at specific touchpoints. Make sure employees can perform these behaviors and understand their role in the customer experience. Hold them accountable for delivering the desired experience, and hold managers accountable for making sure best practices are captured and shared.

#2. Recognize and socialize success stories.
Recognize employees for doing their job well, going above and beyond, and especially when they deliver experiences that significantly impact bottom-line results. There are numerous platforms that automate this process (including ours), but technology alone will never replace the power of receiving a phone call, email, hand-written note, or face-to-face thank you from the CEO.

While it’s nearly impossible to do this with all employees, when CEOs give their personal attention to a job well done, employee pride skyrockets. And it’s not all up to you dear CEO, your managers need to consistently recognize their direct reports and encourage peer-to-peer recognition throughout the organization.

#3. Link employee performance to customer experience feedback.
Gaining customer feedback is critical to your business strategy so be sure you’re sharing that feedback with employees on a regular basis. Engaging your workforce to understand both strengths and challenges will help create a stronger, more productive customer-centric culture that’s laser focused on living the brand.

CEO’s that make a conscious effort to integrate these habits and lead by example are better positioned to grow and maintain market share, attract and retain right-fit talent, increase customer loyalty and, that ever-so-magical word, profit.

Leadership Required: Why the CEO needs to drive communication and culture change to improve customer experience.

All employee engagement and customer loyalty initiatives are not created equal. What makes the best initiatives successful?

The CEO.

A CEO-driven initiative is ultimately more effective than one led only by middle-management, because leadership truly has the power to drive culture transformation and ensure brand alignment with the company’s vision and goals.
A CEO can:

  • align and engage an organization with the brand,
  • set expectations and be an example for all to follow,
  • help eliminate silos through greater collaboration,
  • create a culture of accountability for delivering consistently positive employee and customer experiences.

I recently sat down with Bob Doyle, CEO (and Brand Integrity client) who really gets it. In the last year, he’s implemented a successful experience management initiative that has “improved both customer and employee retention rates, paying for itself many times over.”

Here’s what he had to say about culture transformation and why communication needs to start at the top:

“In order to be consistent, the message needs to start at the top and it must be delivered with passion. If you rely only on middle-management to deliver the message, you’ll get different interpretations of what the message should be. Of course you want your managers to believe, support, and participate in the delivery, but ask four people to communicate something for you, and you’ll get four different stories. So leadership needs to be personally involved to drive the message and ensure it’s communicated consistently and effectively.”

Creating Customers for Life

In order to create loyal customers, a company needs to deliver a great experience, or rather, they need their employees to deliver a great experience. Employees are your greatest marketing advantage. They distinguish your company in a way that helps customers experience the why and how you’re unique from the competition.

So what’s a CEO to do?

The CEO’s role must be one of brand champion. This role will help ensure that the company’s brand strategy is implemented, instead of becoming just another “thing” that everyone should do. Here are three things leaders can start to do today to ensure greater success:

#1. Be visible.
Employees need to see you (literally) leading the effort, they need to know that you truly believe in its value and its impact. Get out and develop relationships with your employees. This also allows you the valuable opportunity to hear what’s really going on from those that directly interact with your customers.

#2. Give feedback regularly.
Recognize employees often with specific feedback on what they did well. Help them connect to the purpose and how their individual efforts fit in with the big picture. Giving their work greater meaning helps them realize they’re working for a company they can be proud of. The CEO can drive a company culture that affects each of these.

#3. Demonstrate quick wins.
Make it a point to regularly update employees on progress. Show them how their feedback led to actionable improvements in process, employee, and customer experiences. You have to walk the talk and show you’re prepared to make changes that improve the experience. Once your employees realize their input is valued, they’ll open up more and be more motivated to follow your example.

In summary, engage employees to deliver the desired brand experience every day, and you’ll be better positioned to retain them. When those good employees deliver consistently great customer experiences, you’ll create and retain more loyal customers.

In the end, it’s all about people—retaining the right people, and empowering them to help differentiate your company from the competition. The right people keep you in business and grow your profitability.

For the Love of Customer Experience

What’s one company you love doing business with?

Allow me to take you on a journey of love. On this journey, you will discover what leads someone to love doing business with a company and what benefits are derived from such a love.

To prepare for this journey, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and consider the one company you absolutely love to do business with. This is a company you love to do business with because their people live the brand every day. When you interact with employees from this company, it is clear that they know what their company is and what the branded experience is all about.

Employees in this company not only know the branded experience but consistently act in conformity with it. This company you are thinking about is “out-behaving” the competition, which leads to incredible customer loyalty. Customers (like you) buy more, and more often, and are less price-sensitive.

Employees in this company also seem quite loyal. Employees recognize their company as a great place to work. They are productive and happy.

This company you are thinking about is managing an experience. You love to do business with it so much that you’ve probably rewarded it with the ultimate compliment—your referral. Perhaps your confidence in the experience you received led you to suggest that others should try this company. Or maybe you tell others about the company because it just feels good to do so. In essence, you’ve become an unpaid member of this company’s marketing department.

After reflecting for a few moments, make a list of all the companies you love to do business with and note why. What is it that they do to deliver that experience to you?

Leaders in these companies understand that knowing the brand and doing the brand lead to a stronger work culture and more profitable customer relationships. That is why these leaders do what it takes to define and manage the experience. Employees in companies you love doing business with recognize that they are on stage, orchestrating an experience. They appreciate that they have the ultimate responsibility and opportunity to deliver an experience that makes customers happy. And in most cases, it makes them happy too.

Here is an example of a company that consistently delivers great customer service and out-behaves the competition, leading to stronger business results.

On a Tuesday morning last month, I arrived at Detroit Metro Airport—stressed and very late. Delta had canceled my flight the night before, and I had been re-booked on a 6 a.m. flight. I was scheduled to speak to an audience of senior executives at 9 a.m. It was 8:15, and my drive to the event was estimated to be 40 minutes. I had speaking engagements in the surrounding area over the next several days, so grabbing a cab wasn’t an option.

There I stood—anxious and panicked—waiting for the Enterprise Rent-A-Car shuttle to pick me up and take me to the rental car facility. I am about to share with you a completely orchestrated experience that employees love to deliver and customers love to receive.

The shuttle pulls up, and out steps Bill.

“Hi, folks. Welcome to Detroit. We are glad you are here. My name is Bill, and I will take you to get your car. Does anyone need help with their bags?”

I took my seat along with several other passengers.

Bill continued with his speech: “We appreciate your renting from Enterprise. I will have you safely to the rental car facility in about 4 minutes. When you get there you will find fresh coffee and snacks waiting for you.”

Four minutes later we pulled up to the facility. I rushed off the shuttle and was first to walk into the facility. There I was greeted by Wendy.

“Hi, I’m Wendy. Welcome to Enterprise. What’s your name? Welcome, Gregg. Step right up to the counter. Elisha is ready to help you get your car.”

Elisha introduced herself, and I shared my dire situation. She was sympathetic, and less than a minute later she was leading me out to my car. She helped me carry my bags and did the walk-around to check for unreported damage while I got situated for the drive.

At this point—because of the friendliness of Bill, Wendy and Elisha—my trust in Enterprise was high enough that I didn’t think twice about not doing the inspection myself. I was confident Elisha would take care of it for me and act in my best interest, which she did.

At the exit, I had to stop to hand over paperwork to the gate attendant, Sandy. We had a quick dialogue about customer service.

“Hi, I am Sandy. How was our customer service?”

“It was great.”

Sandy handed back the paperwork: “Terrific. Thank you for renting from Enterprise. Have a great day.”

I responded, “Sandy, what if I had told you that the customer service was not good?”

“Well, I would have asked you what happened,” she said, “and if it wasn’t something I could have resolved for you, I would have connected you to one of my managers who would make it right.”

When I returned to Enterprise two days later, I had equally positive experiences with the drop-off attendant and shuttle driver. They were friendly, helpful and attentive—clearly demonstrating the brand.

Enterprise employees recognize that they are performing in front of customers. They have been trained to orchestrate an ideal experience at each point of interaction by playing the role of host. In doing so, they realize they are performing an experience—from the shuttle driver to the gate attendant and everyone in between.

This managed experience is created by a system for living the brand, an approach to defining an experience that employees can orchestrate at critical points of interaction—and an experience that will create customer love.

Recently published in the Rochester Business Journal.