The Power of Customer Engagement

Why it pays to put yourself in the line of fire

I was interviewed recently by the BBC on an early morning radio programme. A small group of residents had expressed confusion with a developer at one of our managed sites and, although the issue was not ours to answer, I was very happy to bring clarity to the situation.

Unfortunately, the interviewer had other ideas and spent his ‘window of opportunity with the CEO’ to badger me.

It was an old trick designed to bait a response but, as I highlighted between his pot shots, ultimately it would not be naming or blaming but working closely with the residents and the developer that would see a positive outcome for everyone involved.

Why on earth did I volunteer to put myself in the line of fire?

It’s simple really. The most successful businesses are those who stay connected with their customers’ needs – and that means everyone from front line staff to the CEO.

It isn’t always easy to do, of course, especially as businesses grow and their customer base becomes ever larger.

But the most successful organisations will always find ways to keep their customers front and center at all times.

It’s not all about firefighting: there are many, many good news stories where a listening and proactive approach gets the best results for customers – and content customers mean a thriving business means happy investors and shareholders.

Just this week Greenbelt worked with BT to ensure hundreds more of our residents in Menstrie in Clackmannanshire will now have broadband access to the Internet.

Under an agreement reached with BT Openreach, we ensured all of the necessary consents and legal processes were made possible to allow broadband apparatus to be located on part of our open space.

I know many companies who would have been slow to respond to customer needs in a case like this: it’s not in their contract, it’s not our area of business, they’re not paying for this, so why should we bother?

Truth be told, there are also many companies I know where the CEO wouldn’t even be aware of these small victories and the fact they all add up to make up a huge impact.

Unfortunately, the CEO who believes they and their company are so big they can find someone else to do all the listening and direct customer engagement has lost their focus.

I was gratified to read a survey this afternoon that suggested the amount of time CEOs spent personally interacting with customers was on average 45% of each week – that’s more than two full days out of every five (or nearly three out of seven, if you work as hard as we do at Greenbelt!).

It’s a clear example of the CEO operating as ‘Customer Engagement Officer’.

Sadly, if we allow that level of engagement to fade at the leadership level, it’s the customer-oriented culture and business that both suffer.

That’s why Greenbelt invites constant feedback from our customers. After all, the best way to evolve is to understand needs and desires at a grassroots level.

It’s often said ‘customers don’t need you. but you need them’. I disagree. Every business agreement should be an equal marriage of needs and fulfillment.

I’m also often asked ‘but doesn’t putting yourself out there leave you open to bad publicity: after all, you simply can’t please all of the people all of the time?’

Yes, that’s true, but that’s precisely the reason engagement is so important.

A CEO’s personal leadership practices set the tone for their entire workforce.

Worried that the CEO will jump to conclusions based on a single customer complaint, many managers avoid offering opportunities to speak direct to the customer base, depriving them of important feedback that could help shape future strategies.

Similarly, the CEO who voluntarily puts their own head in the sand and hopes everything will simply turn out okay is unlikely to take the leaps that will bring their business to the next level.

Conversely, the CEO, directors, managers and operatives who want their organisation to be based on openness, engagement, dialogue and transparency in all its operations, may cop some flak at times from malcontents and grandstanders but will ultimately achieve so much more.

Encouraging a culture, from the top, that helps engender programmess that bring customers into contact with employees, and vice versa, creates two-way conversations – with the bottom line being profitable results for all.

An ethos of shared values and second-to-none management will define your company as one worth doing business with, an organisation worth having a relationship with.

And, if that means a CEO rising at the crack of dawn to be badgered by a chat show host who’s had way too much caffeine and not nearly enough research from his editorial team . . . well that’s the way it has to be.

Greenbelt CEO Alex Middleton