Leadership and Experience

I’ve just been inspired by one of our country’s thought leaders in the field of Customer Experience. Carolyne Gathuru (www.life-skills.co.ke) just delivered a scorching presentation to our leadership programme (www.amalgamleadership.com)

She focussed on the responsibility business leaders have for defining the experience their customers receive. And showed how strong leadership traits are critical to the design of  successful customer experience programmes.

Strong leaders exhibit uncommon behaviours like humility, a genuine interest in others, and the ability to inspire loyalty.  So do strong Customer Experience programmes. That’s why Carolyne differentiates between Customer Service and Customer Experience. The former is generally reactive and places emphasis on resolving customer problems. The latter is proactive and encompasses everything a business does to make a favourable impact on the customer.

I like those definitions because I have always thought Customer Service tends to put the employee in a subservient position, whereas great Customer Experience is best delivered on a peer-to-peer basis. And I heartily dislike the supposed truism ‘the customer is always right’. Because, frankly, he often isn’t.

In fact Gathuru made her strongest point when she asked our leaders whether they would prioritise care of internal customers (employees) over external ones. The temptation was to answer that paying customers matter most. But consider this: without employees there’s nothing for the customer to buy. And without motivated employees – people who are genuinely happy in their work – there’s little to sell.

It’s just a fact that we buy things from people we like. Admittedly, after more than a century of Marketing, most of us are willing to extend that gesture to brands we like. Brands create a feeling and, if we like that feeling, we open our wallets. It doesn’t matter if you have functional differentiation – the lowest price, the broadest bandwidth, the crispiest pizza – customers won’t stay with you if they don’t like you. And, to be honest, there are still too many companies out there that we consumers don’t like. And, if we are buying from them, it’s only until someone nicer comes along.

Southwest Airlines in the United States, has a brand and culture that is a long-running case study in likeability. They decided early on to prioritise employee satisfaction over passenger satisfaction. That didn’t mean they weren’t shooting for happy customers. They just realised that the easiest way to hit the target was to have happy staff that customers enjoyed spending time with. Many companies could learn from their example. Whether they make polypropylene mouldings or serve gourmet meals. Repeat business always comes down to how you made customers feel.