Leadership accountability is killing your customer experience

Leadership Accountability

Short post this week as I’m in the middle of moving, but I wanted to take a few seconds and discuss leadership accountability as relates to customer experience. In the writings and speeches I’ve done, I commonly refer to this as “one-company leadership.” That’s where you need to get to as an organization. The entire company, beginning with the senior leadership team, needs to be on the same page with regard to what the customer experience is — and why it’s important to the business growing.

If you’ve been listening to my new podcast, The Chief Customer Officer Human Duct Tape Show, you might realize we discuss ideas around this in every episode. Leadership accountability. One-company leadership. Aligning the silos. I’ve done 13 episodes so far (and taped a few more), and this comes up in each episode. Anyone doing CCO work has to understand leadership accountability, and place the concept at the core of how they work — especially in the beginning.

Let’s take a quick look at what prevents leadership accountability, and then offer a few ideas on how to make it better.

What prevents leadership accountability

There are numerous factors, but primary among them is silos. Silos are pervasive in business. Just how pervasive? Machiavelli actually predicted their existence in 1513. It’s amazing that 503 years later, it’s still a problem for a lot of businesses — but it is, and that’s at the heart of issues with leadership accountability.

Silo heads (i.e. department leaders) often believe their department drives/saves the business. This can lead to key metrics getting re-contextualized in terms of marketing, or operations, or sales, or whatever the case may be. When initiatives are silo-by-silo, the customer experience is fragmented. That’s bad leadership. It’s bad leadership accountability. It means that when a customer has to deal with your Ops team, they get a different experience than they would from your sales team. Those customers don’t come back.

This is why one-company leadership is important.

There are two other issues with leadership accountability. (There’s actually more, but like I said, this is a shorter post.) One is the pervasiveness of surveys as a metric for customer satisfaction. Look, surveys are not all bad — but when we roll out a survey and pin our entire year on the 4.1 on the 1-5 we got, that’s not good. That’s a snapshot of customer experience. It’s by no means holistic, and it’s certainly not strategic. Surveys have their place, but they shouldn’t be driving customer experience strategy.

Now, let’s consider a ridiculous notion. If you were interested in buying a product, would you go to LinkedIn and read the bios and career histories of the executives at the company? Well, maybe some B2B purchasers do that — but in general, no one would do that. You’d research the product. You’d talk to friends. You’d engage with the experience. Right?

Unfortunately, many companies operate according to this idea that, because their senior leadership team has tons of experience in the vertical/industry, they’re on the right track! That’s not correct. Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, has also noted this.

Your customers respond to the experience you put forth. They don’t care about your senior team, your surveys, and your silos. But when those things start affecting their experience, they will care.

Leadership accountability, then, is often about getting out of your own way as a leader — and focusing on what really matters.

How to drive leadership accountability

There are a number of approaches, and it varies by business. I encourage you to check out my book Chief Customer Officer for more, but here are a few quick ideas:

  • Speak the language of the business: When people begin with CCO work at a new business or in a newly-created role, other senior leaders often look at them quizzically. What is this job? Change is hard for people. To get your colleagues on your side, speak the business language. Talk about the metrics they need to hit. Use the right words. In-group vs. out-group is important in business. You can’t be seen as someone who uses other terms and hits other metrics. It will be hard to get everyone on the same page in that context.
  • Tie all metrics back to the customer: Growth and innovation come from the customer. We should all know this. If you can’t smash the silos, you need to unify them. How do you unify them? Well, the CIO needs a customer metric he/she is judged on. So does the CMO. So does the COO. So on and so forth. Leadership accountability will come as people realize they are being judged on customer-centric metrics. They will evolve around to your ideas and positions. If they aren’t judged on customer-facing elements, it will be a long battle uphill.
  • Events: Get to know people in other divisions. Get to know their teams. Explain your work to them. Listen to them about their work. Build relationships. Build cross-functional teams. Develop leadership accountability through organic relationships and listening. You all work at the same place, right? You all want to be successful and be well-regarded individually. Work together to achieve that. This goes a long way towards silo-smashing.
  • Learn from my customer experience podcast: I did a recap of the big lessons from my first 12 guests recently, and I encourage you to read it — and listen to some of the embedded audio. There is a lot about leadership accountability and one-company leadership, including how to break silos, how long it takes, how to align teams, etc. You’ll learn a lot. I promise.

We’re back next Tuesday with a new podcast and next Thursday with a new post on customer love. Have a great weekend — and wish me luck moving.

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