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Customer Engagement

Should CEOs Engage Directly with Customers?

Uthaman Bakthikrishnan

Uthaman Bakthikrishnan

Executive Vice President

I read the article “When CEOs engage directly with customers” in Harvard Business Review. This article weighed the pros and cons of such an engagement and favored CEOs engaging with customers.

I got reminded of instances where I have had the opportunity to see CEOs in action while they engaged with customers.

Instance 1: When CEO Intervened on Behalf of the Customer in Technology Development

I worked in an organization where we had this customer for whom we were developing a product. After development, this product had to be deployed in their environment, and it had to be certified.

We signed up to do from concept to certification. After which, the customer could deploy the product on production systems worldwide.

This meant coordination with multiple stakeholders and ensuring the workflow expected by the customer was adhered to.

There were genuine delays from every stakeholder. However, the customer was unhappy that the project was overrunning the original timelines.

We tried hard to explain to our customer, and they were not in the mindset to understand, for they had the time-to-market pressure.

This was a critical project for us as we were doing this for the first time, and we wanted to deliver it right.

This was when the CEO stepped in and personally organized a workshop on the entire design, development, workflow needs, and certification process for the customer’s technology team.

Once this workshop was over, they understood the intricacies of this development and the dependence on various stakeholders. After which, they were patient, and the entire process was done to their satisfaction.

The customer today is in solid partnership with this organization, and they handle all their development work.

Anyone from the technology leadership could have organized this workshop, but coming from the CEO made it all the more exciting and convincing for the customer.

Instance 2: When the CEO Stepped in as an Executive Sponsor

This happened in one of the organizations where I worked earlier.

We had a customer for whom we were providing testing services.

After a point, the customer was unhappy with us and decided to cancel the relationship.

This was a key account. That’s when the CEO got involved. He called the customer’s VP of engineering and said:

We understand that you faced some challenges in our engagement. Now, we know the reasons why there were issues. We will ensure that these challenges don’t surface again.

Besides, I would be the executive sponsor of this account, and we will ensure that everything is back on track to your satisfaction within 90 days. Till such time, we will not charge you for the services.

After you are convinced, you can start paying us.

His promise of becoming the account’s executive sponsor clinched the deal back for us. The customer has now grown to be a billion-dollar company, and they continue to be serviced by this organization.

From then on, the organization assigned one from the leadership group to be the executive sponsor for all key accounts. This has allowed them to grow rapidly.

Instance 3: When the CEO Got into Business Reviews

In one of the organizations where I worked, the CEO traveled to a particular geography or country every quarter. He set up business review meetings with six to ten customers in that region.

Every time he met with them, it was not just about reviewing the existing work. It was always about what else we could do for them. How else can we add value to their business?

Invariably, this grew those accounts by 20 to 30% in value.

Today, this has become a practice in the organization. They have grown large, and the CEO cannot address all customers’ needs. However, their leadership team does this activity of conducting this progressive review every quarter with key customers. This has contributed a lot to their growth.

The involvement of the CEO in the customer experience function augurs well for every organization. It gives confidence to the customers that they have access to senior executives in the organization and are an essential part of the organization’s growth.

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