Our Partner John Sills discusses why genuine openness from CEOs should continue once (if) everything goes back to normal
I’m Martin, Mike, Dave, Roger, and David, and I’m the CEO of a company you’ve used occasionally in the past.
I’m sorry I’ve not been in touch before. I thought you’d prefer to read our automated emails about our latest offers on all the things you can buy from us. And who wants to know about me anyway? My main job us to stay in touch with the shareholders, and make sure they’re getting what they want.
In fact, it’s been so hard to get hold of me that a special website has been set up - ceoemail.com – for when you’ve become fed up with our generic responses to your complex complaints.
But now, things are different. In a situation like this, you need certainty. You need to know that we’re doing all we can, that my focus is solely on helping you, and the people who work for me, to get through this tough time.
I have a lot to say to you. I want you to know what we’re doing to help, how our colleagues are being looked after, the safe environment we’re creating, and even how we’re working with our competitors to get through this.
I want you to know I’m a real person, too. A person with worries, concerns, friends I’m not seeing and family I care about. I want you to know that I genuinely understand.
And I want you to know it’s from me. Not a team of copywriters. Not a made-up name printed on the bottom of a letter to help manage the deluge of replies. But me, a real-life human being.
And actually, this is quite a nice way of doing things, isn’t it?
In the past few years, we’ve made lots of improvements to your customer experience. We’ve made sure you can get more stuff, more quickly, and more safely than ever before. You can get anything you need from us at the swipe of a screen and every question you have answered by Charlie our chatbot, without any need to speak to anyone with a pulse.
But when I think about it, maybe we’ve been too focussed on improving the functional experience and forgotting about the emotional one.
Because you’re no more satisfied as a customer than you were a decade ago. On the whole, you trust my company, and most big companies, less than you did in the past. And you seem to keep asking for GPs that know you, banks that understand you, and train journeys that allow you to enjoyably stare out of the window rather than disgustingly stand in someone’s armpit. Which isn’t an unreasonable request.
And whilst you seem to quite like our app and happy enough as long as we get the simple things right, you also seem to be moaning about us a lot on Twitter. We seem to be saying ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ a lot, too.
And I think that’s because, for the bigger things in life, you still like the certainty that speaking to another human being can bring. That’s why you ask to speak to a manager when you’re not happy about how your complaint has been handled; why we transfer you to a real person once you’ve exhausted every possible IVR option we offer you; and why when you need a recommendation, you’re still more likely to ask a friend than trust Trusted Reviews.
So perhaps there’s some good to come from this pandemic. Not only do you know me now, but you know more about my business. I’ve told you everything about our supply chains, about our cost challenges, and about how we’re going to treat our colleagues now and in the future. And you’ve rightly decided to hold us to a higher standard, as the folk at BooHoo have recently found out.
Perhaps we can keep this going, and all be a little more like Guy at Riverford. I’ve heard that every week he writes to his customers with a personal thought on food, farming, politics, or his own personal failings. And on real paper too! I always thought it was quite old-fashioned, but it turns out his customers quite like it, as do his colleagues, who now own the company alongside him.
So what do you say, shall we stay in touch and see if we can rebuild our relationship? See if over time, you can begin to trust me again, and know that I really am trying to do the best thing for you, not just those who pay me? Or shall I go and hide back behind the curtain, let my CRM system do the talking for me, and just change my logo if I want to let you know what I think about what’s happening in the world?
Which would you prefer?
Take care, stay safe, and look after yourself and each other,
Signed, the CEO of every company you know