CXO

CEOs: Make developing customer relationships your top priority in 2015

In order to give customers an outstanding experience and to gain their loyalty, CEOs need to emphasize this goal to all staff and board members. Here are three tips for CEOs to keep in mind this year.

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Apple CEO Tim Cook at an Apple store.
Image: James Martin/CNET

This year, retail CEOs are focusing on developing personalized relationships with their customers on an individual level. They also want to ensure a uniform shopping experience, whether customers interact with the company at a brick-and-mortar store or online.

The ultimate goal for CEOs will be to increase sales, which will be the topic of most interest to the board and the investment community. In order to succeed at this goal, CEOs need to be able to drive personalized messages to individuals in the C-suite, in middle management, and the rest of the staff about what it will take to get to know the customer and earn their loyalty in 2015.

One way to build and keep a loyal customer base is to present customers with personalized offerings when they visit your website, while also being cognizant not to cross the invisible line between helpfulness and invasion of privacy.

An area that many retailers struggle with is how to ensure continuing loyalty via a seamless process across all customer touch points. In late 2014, a personal acquaintance shared a retail experience with me that definitely wasn't seamless.

He recounted how a household-name retailer couldn't seem to find a way to coordinate efforts between local sales staff in a brick-and-mortar store, a national customer service center, and an apparently separate business unit that would deliver, install, and repair the items ordered. Nobody was clued in to what the other parties in the chain were doing. Worse yet, the customer had to step in to try to coordinate everything and was privy to all of the miscues and fumbles. He went away vowing never to do business with that retailer again.

The takeaway for retail (and other) CEOs is that they should integrate corporate objectives throughout all business units, and make it their personal business to ensure that their subordinates are hearing these messages and following through on them. This not only means that sales and service are working, but that supply chains are functioning optimally, that suppliers are certified and dependable, and that quality, durability, and delivery of goods meet consumer expectations. To do this, CEOs should consider the following three tips in 2015.

1: Walk around more

There are so many responsibilities weighing on CEOs, that it's often very difficult to get around to individual business units and to discuss company goals within the context of what those business units do. But the value of paying a personal visit to a business unit cannot be underestimated; it makes people in the business unit feel important, and it lets them know that what they do matters.

2: Visit the customers

Focus groups, surveys, and online and in-store feedback are great, but nothing beats actually getting out in the customer community and having direct conversations. I know a number of CEOs who do this regularly, and they are always surprised at the amount of knowledge they gain from the experience.

3: Develop your board

Boards (like investors) focus on revenues and losses, but it doesn't hurt to educate them to a more encompassing corporate vision of how all of the business units must focus on the customer to make the customer experience with outstanding.

About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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