Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Only CEO Who Matters

Sam Walton once said, "There is one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."

It is this premise that Chuck Wall personifies in his new book, Customer CEO: How to Profit from the Power of Your Customers.  This is a well-written, easy-to-read book about the powers possessed by your customers - powers you may not have considered - and about how to become a  successful, profitable business by harnessing those powers to transform the organization, the culture, and how it thinks about delivering the customer experience.

Chuck draws on his background as a marketer and an entrepreneur, along with feedback from, or interviews with, more than 100,000 customers of his various clients over the years to explain the powers and to make his point. The great thing about the companies Chuck uses as examples? They are not all "the usual suspects." He shares details from 30+ companies, some that you may not have heard of or that you may not have thought about when you've searched for examples of who gets the customer experience right. That doesn't lessen their impact and is, actually, quite refreshing.

There are nine customer powers that Chuck identifies through his research, and he explains each one using real-life examples. He then outlines how to harness each one to evolve your company into a customer-centric organization.
I'll briefly summarize the nine powers below, but before I do that, here's a quick video about the book. See if you can identify any of the powers as you watch it.

Didn't catch them all? OK, here they are.

The Power of Me: What's in it for me?
I am the customer. I am always right. I am the reason you are in business. I pay your bills. I will share my experiences, good or bad, with everyone around me. I'll even share them with you, but I expect
you to do something with it.

The Power of Value: What's this worth to me?
Value means different things to different people. Each of us decides what something is worth or what its value is based on our needs at the time. That value can be determined by both internal (need) and external factors. One thing is for certain, though. Customers don't want to pay too much or get ripped off.

The Power of Performance: Does it do what I need it to do?
This power revolves around design thinking. Better design - be it products, services, etc. - leads to better customer experiences.

The Power of the Heart: How does it make you feel?
Customers will make that emotional connection with companies and brands that understand them and take the time to really get to know them.

The Power of Simple: Why is this so difficult?
Offering too many variations, making things difficult to assemble or use, incorporating extra or unnecessary steps into a process. These are all examples of where simplification would be a customer delighter.

The Power of Yes: Why is the answer always No?
The golden rule. Treat customers the way that you want to be treated. Get it right. Go the extra mile. Do the little unexpected things. Empower employees to always do what's right for the customer. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Never allow a person to tell you 'No' who doesn't have the power to say 'Yes.'"

The Power of Platform: What about my ideas?
This power is all about how social and how vocal we've all become. We are share happy. Good or bad. Ideas, suggestions, complaints. It's all a gift from us to the companies we interact with. Our ability to share has been amplified by the platform. Companies must adapt and learn to communicate with, and respond to, customers wherever they are.

The Power of Rebellion: How do I break the rules?
There are too many bad rules and policies. What's the point of some of them? There are best practices, but who are they best for? Companies are so bland and blah. Why does everyone have to do the same thing? Which companies are going to break the mold and really set themselves apart from the rest of the pack? Who's going to create a unique and better experience for me?

The Power of Purpose: Do we share the same values?
We like to do business with companies that: do the right thing, put our best interests first, and value the same things we do. Companies that we can trust. Companies that we believe in. Companies whose purpose, whose why, aligns with our own.

Honestly, these all sound pretty reasonable to me. Nothing crazy here in terms of customer expectations. Any company that not only understands these powers but also puts them to good use is ahead of the game. Customers have a choice. They don't have to buy from your company; they can go elsewhere. Take the time to understand and to really know your customers so that you can become their primary, or even only, choice.

Chuck closes the book with this Customer CEO Manifesto, as well as a guide to becoming a Customer CEO Champion. I recommend adopting this Manifesto as your own!

The greatest assets companies possess are not their buildings, brands, or backgrounds. It’s their customers.

Remember... there's only one boss. There's only one CEO who matters.

If you don't really believe that your customers are in charge, you are being stubborn. The reality is that your existing and potential customers can choose to do business however they want. You are merely one option in lives filled with too many choices, distractions, and debt. They can live without you. -Chuck Wall


  1. Annette, I enjoyed the post, it made me think, but I wonder is the customer the only boss?

    I think as I get older (softer?) I am coming to the conclusion that the employee is the one to watch, they are the ones who really make a difference

    What do you think? Is that heresy?


    1. Hmmm. I am in favor of putting the employee first, without a doubt. We can't talk about the customer experience without talking about the employee who delivers that experience. I don't think Chuck's intention is to leave the employee out here but rather to focus specifically on understanding the customer (and his wants and needs) and then also on how we get leadership to understand the impact the customer has on the organization.

      It's a bit of a circular argument, isn't it? The customer pays the bills, but without the employee, there is no product to consume or experience to be had.

      Annette :-)

  2. Hi Annette and James,

    I'll weigh in for a moment if that's OK. First, thanks for such a great review. Second, this is a huge question I wrestled with for years in my own businesses. Ultimately, it is a little "first came first, chicken or egg?" question. For example, Southwest Airlines is built on the premise that happy employees produces happy customers (in that order). On the other hand, Amazon says happy customers will create happy employees. So, I finally decided to focus on the "value chain" of following the money. This is where the idea of "profit from the power of your customers" came from. It doesn't matter how great the culture is, how wonderful the experience is or how effective the training is...without first having a customer you don't have a business. I fall back on what Peter Drucker taught us; that our job is to create new customers everyday...everything else is secondary.

    Ultimately, it does take both to sustain over time because you won't keep your customers for long without the engaged employee. My main mission with the book is to spark a new conversation about how this social age how transformed the power in the market. Smart brands are the ones that are really paying attention to this. It presents an amazing opportunity for both upstarts AND established enterprises that really pay attention and figure this out. Thanks!

    Chuck Wall

    1. Chuck,

      Thanks for weighing in on that.

      Annette :-)

    2. Hi Chuck,
      It's an interesting question, I agree. But, if we look closer at Druckers quote: "our job is to create new customers everyday...everything else is secondary". I would ask this: Who is it that creates the customer, finds them, engages with them, makes and delivers the things that they buy, enjoy and find useful? The employees, right?

      Does that mean it is the employees who should come first?


    3. Great question Adrian. One of the best books on the employee first subject is called "Employees First, Customers Second" by Vineet Nayar. Vineet is the CEO of HCL Technologies, a global IT services company. He firmly believes, and practices, the idea of "employee first." So, it works for them, just like brands like Southwest. And I think that's a point I would like to make: the common thread among so many of these great companies (that are either employee or customer led) is that they have champions at the top who effectively drive their ideas so deep into the culture that it works...for them. On the other side, is the example of A.G. Lafley (former CEO of P&G) who encountered a sleeping giant, lost in their product first approach. He turned the ship around by becoming a customer-first enterprise (I highly recommend his book The Game Changer...the best book on practical business innovation in my opinion).

      So we have two sides that are valid. But to me, from my own experience, you can't really sustain any organization for long without paying customers. That's the cause of most company failures...I have an entire chapter about this idea in Customer CEO (Power of Performance). In the end, the real point is this: if you have a customer (however you got them), you need to understand them better in order to serve and keep them. There are far too many other choices. Any company that doesn't take this seriously today will have neither customers or employees. I believe deeper customer insight is the secret weapon for decisive competitive advantage. Thanks.

    4. Adrian and Chuck, thank you both for weighing in on this. All valid points.

      I always love to refer back to the Tom Peters story about Hal Rosenbluth, CEO of Rosenbluth International: "Who comes first? Don't be silly, says King Hal; it's employees. That is – and this dear Watson, is elementary – if you genuinely want to put customers first, you must put employees more first.”

      Annette :-)

  3. Annette, you pushed Chuck's book to the top of my reading list.

    1. Awesome, Andrew. I think you'll enjoy it.

      Annette :-)

  4. Very interesting read Annette. :)

    Sam Walton