Don’t expect C-level execs to fix their company’s customer service

Often after one of my presentations, an attendee will approach me to tell me of a terrible customer experience with one of the big brands.  They ask me, “If they say that customer service is so important, then why is it so bad? Corporations are people, too. And if they are people, then aren’t they customers at some point? Don’t they experience what we experience? Don’t they get it?”

I respond to them by saying that no matter how much those companies say they value customer feedback, don’t expect their delivery of customer service to get better any time soon. While C-level executives must be customers and experience service for themselves, they experience it like they do in the first-class section flying on a plane. Since they are not personally paying for the ticket, they do not worry about getting their money’s worth. They do not weigh the experience with the expense to assess value like we do. Going to the front of the line and with ample leg room and access to whatever their needs might want, they are blind to what we real customers must endure behind that first-class curtain. As we complain about cramped leg room and rising baggage fees, they simply do not hear any of it through their noise-canceling headphones.

When they are back in the office, they do what they were hired to do which is to maximize profits. While executives have a base pay we would envy, they are moved to maximize profits to earn their incentive pay of bonuses and stocks. And if sales are flat because customers can’t afford to spend much, then to protect their profit margins, executives dictate layoff and other cost-cutting measures, oblivious to its impact on the customer experience. To them, customer-centricity measures do not quantify with an ROI on a profit statement. So I understand why they do what they do. I understand it. That doesn’t mean I agree with it.

Unfortunately, customers don’t hire the people who serve them. Companies do. And companies, led by those executives, don’t care. The fish stinks from the head down, but the head does not know it’s stinking.

I believe the real question is “How does a customer service representative who wants to give exceptional service survive in a company that doesn’t care?”


If you are one of those C-level executives: Don’t wait for Undercover Boss to call. Make it a part of your daily leadership regimen to get out of the office to find out what is really going on in your operation. You can’t build the business without sales. And you can’t build sales without satisfied customers. If you don’t know what’s going on, one employee could kill your business and you won’t even know it when it happens. I can tell you that every C-level executive who has been spotlighted on Undercover Boss finds out that the company isn’t performing as well as he/she thought it was. I can also tell you that any viewer of Undercover Boss who is an employee in any company can tell you that they saw it coming.

If you are an employee: Theodore Roosevelt said, “Success, the real success, does not depend upon the position you hold but upon how you carry yourself in that position.” You do not need a CEO title to act like a leader. Know this: At the moment that the customer is interacting with you, you have as much ability to build customer loyalty as your CEO. Make the difference for your customer. Your goal: When the customer walks away from you, he says to himself, “Wow! That person really cared about me.”


Filed under Customer Service

4 responses to “Don’t expect C-level execs to fix their company’s customer service

  1. A great post Bill! It’s interesting because I’ve never really heard many people talk about this ”perspective gap” for lack of a better term.

    I actually drafted a post once about small business owners and how they need to be careful applying the advice found in business books by top executives. There is a lot of great advice in those books, of course, but large company executives live in a different world than retail store owners. Not all of the lessons from one apply to the other.

    You point out that gap well and how it affects C-Suite views of customer service.

    • Adam, Thank you very much for your comments. When I speak about “Delivering the “World’s Best” Customer Experience”, some attendees balk at thinking they could be “World’s Best”. I explain that all they need to be is “World’s Best” to their customer, not every person in the world. Every person has a global view and a personal view. For example, student debt in the United States has surpassed one trillion dollars, more than car loan and credit card debt combined. But that doesn’t matter to a student. What matters to the student is “How much do I owe?” Ken Lyons, in Market Leader, says that people make a decision to do business with a brand based on three criteria: cost, location and reputation. He continues that 70% of the reputation is based on the interaction the customer has with the brand’s people.

      And the average customer’s interaction is rarely with the CEO. For FedEx it was a driver and for Papa John’s it was an order taker who created a social media nightmare for their respective brands. In both those two cases, it was hours before the CEO knew what had happened. Unfortunately, the higher the pyramid the further away the C-level is away from the base. And while the CEO sits atop the pyramid, he may not know that the foundation is crumbling.

  2. ” The fish stinks from the head down, but the head does not know it’s stinking.” — great quote! I have to remember that one 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.