Written by Vivek Jaiswal | Co-founder, Customer Guru
A good leader knows that there are certain customer centric characteristics that a company should adopt from the very beginning. To get a deeper know-how of these characteristics, it is essential that a business leader experiences being in the frontline. One of the most interesting example of a company that does so is Amazon. It requires its employees — from entry-level workers to board-level executives — to attend two days of call centre training. The goal of such training is simple: make certain that everyone in the company, not just those in the customer facing role, are committed to listening to, understanding, and acting on the needs of customers. Not only this, the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos allows customers to send a message to his email address, email@example.com, in an effort to be as accessible and transparent as possible. I believe this is what is helping Amazon become “Earth’s most customer centric company.”
We have found some reasons that will emphasise the need for business leaders to experience the frontline. A frontline experience helps a leader in:
1. Knowing the customer better
When you serve at frontline you can observe your customers closely. You can identify with the customer as a person and understand their problems first hand. It will also let you know what your customer needs or expects from your product. We have stressed the importance of knowing the customer in our previous blogs, how it helps to win customer loyalty and gain profits. Moreover knowing your customer keeps you one step ahead in planning out changes in your product and future products. It helps you look beyond the numbers and predict the change in customer behaviour, which is essential for a good leader!
2. Identifying problems
The most successful startups were born out of a real problem that the founders themselves faced and wanted to do something about it. For example the Dropbox founding duo – Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, were tired of using an external storage device whenever they needed to exchange files between themselves. The problem was bigger when it came to sending huge files as an attachment in emails. This inspired them to build Dropbox, a file sharing application that seamlessly makes your files available on several devices.
On the same lines, when a leader is directly interacting with the customer, it helps him to identify the pain points and use that learning to offer better value out of the product. Sometimes the problems do not reach the top as told by the customer. Experiencing a few days working at the frontline gives you an opportunity to remove all the filters and interact with your customers with full transparency. I believe that not only should a business leader experience a frontline role, he should also experience the product or the service himself to appreciate the customer experience better.
3. Guiding the team
Working at a frontline position helps the business leader walk a mile in the shoes of a customer facing employee. This can add a lot to your guidance to the team. You know the customer as well as your employee’s experience. You would be in a better position to make improvements in your team and know exactly how to do that. It will not only improve your customer experience and profits, but also get you long-term employee loyalty and retention.
4. Decision making
By serving in a frontline position, you would have a holistic view of your current customer experience and what you could do to improve it. Many times, critical customer experience issues go unnoticed by the CEO because it never gets reported to him unless it has become too big to manage. Although it is important, getting into such a firefighting situations takes away management bandwidth and reduces operational efficiency. By spending a few days in a frontline position, you would have an early view of such issues and start making the right decisions that would be more directed and focused at solving real customer issues. The knowledge acquired by working at the frontline position helps you understand what works and what doesn’t with your customers and therefore making customer centric decisions become a lot easier.
Customer service excellence in an organisation starts with a commitment from the top. And when the top management has a view of their organisation from the bottom up, building a customer centric organisation becomes a cake walk. The sooner a leader understands this, the better!