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Five Things Every CEO Should Want to Know About Customers

by Jeanne Bliss  |  
March 13, 2007

The perennial cry from CEOs around the globe is that they are focused on their customers: It is their highest-priority mission, the critical job of their company—and everything emanates from understanding what customers need and want... and delivering on it. You may have said this yourself.

However, without up-to-date trend information about profitable versus non-profitable customers and the issues that drive the best customers away, CEOs and their businesses are unable to manage customers as assets. As internal leaders of each silo report and recommend customer actions separately, CEOs react to the random issues landing on their desk rather than focusing on key issues that erode customer loyalty and customer profitability.

For example, marketers in a highly regarded financial services company charged with improving customer loyalty sold their CEO a concept touted as a customer assistance program, but it was completely inwardly focused. The goal was to up-sell and cross-sell customers who called in for service help, regardless of who they were, why they were calling, or how profitable or loyal they were.

This gave the front line a case of priority whiplash.

Just the week before, operators were delivered impassioned training on how they should build personalized relationships and customer rapport with each call, even though the process caused longer call times (a tactic sold to the CEO a month earlier). But the lucrative incentive being paid out for the new marketing program was based on keeping calls to a talk-time limit, and on up-selling customers regardless of who they were.

So, with one eye on the timer prompting them to end the call, the operators would try to build rapport. Then with talk-time dwindling, they'd rapid-fire offers to up-sell and cross-sell. The result? They alienated some of their best customers, who expected help from a company they were extremely loyal to but instead got disappointing service. Not much, increased sales or growth in customer profitability resulted. In fact, customer goodwill declined.

CEOs Must Take Hold of Customer Profitability!

Organic customer growth drives long-term profitability. So why isn't it as important to you as quarterly sales goals? This is where the customer commitment falls apart, because what's actively asked for, measured, and rewarded doesn't always line up with what's good for customers. The easily understood and well-defined quarterly sales goals win out and stay top-of-mind.

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Jeanne Bliss is the founder of CustomerBLISS (, a consulting and coaching company, and the author of Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action.

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