Stop everything and take your customers’ temperature

Do you know which of your customers are ready to defect? What if one of your most important customers was getting ready to leave—without warning? How would you know? One CEO client was stunned when I told him that one of his best customers had just completed a massive competitive review because they were so upset with his company. One of his best customers was preparing to defect—and nobody knew.

Who are your most important customers, those whom you cannot afford to lose? How positive are you that they are singing your praises?

As the CEO, there are four things you should ask top executives at each of your most important customers:

  1. “How are you feeling about your relationship with us? If someone came to you and asked whether or not they should buy from us, what would you say?”
  2. “What frustrates you in dealing with our company? What gets in the way of achieving your goals?”
  3. “How do you want to be involved in the resolution of relationship issues?”
  4. “What value are we providing you?”

Human nature is such that if you merely let them complain, they may dwell on the negatives and forget the value they are actually receiving. Thus, asking after the value they receive enables you to re-anchor the value of the relationship. As well, you may discover potential refinements to your value proposition or marketing message.

Create a simple customer relationship health summary with a red, yellow, or green light beside each customer company name:

Green means they would absolutely give a positive recommendation and any issues are nits that equate to a spelling error in a document—something that everyone understands can happen and nobody loses sleep over.

Yellow indicates there are some frustrations building that need to be addressed, but they are inconveniences that don’t necessarily prevent the customer from achieving their objectives. At this stage, customer trust may be endangered.

Red means the customer is a candidate for defection—the problems are seriously impeding customer success and frustrations have grown to epic proportions.

Share this simple relationship health diagram with everyone in your company who can have an impact on changing these colors—anyone and perhaps everyone. Put it on the executive dashboard, on your wall, in the hall, on the TV monitors in the break rooms.

Start holding people accountable for turning customers green. Assign owners based on the root of customer problems. Direct owners to form a team to understand root causes and determine whether or not a solution will be provided. After all, not everything the customer asks for makes sense for the business. The teams must work in conjunction with the customer to find a solution that effectively balances the customer and business needs. Keep the customer abreast of the decision and the team’s progress towards resolution. Set time limits and consequences for missed deadlines.

Each week, those accountable should share their progress towards customer issue resolution. As issues are resolved, the relationship health colors can be changed and new issues tackled.

As the CEO, you are the ultimate chief customer officer. You are ultimately accountable for the consequences of flagging customer relationship health. Customers will not buy more, advocate, or engage if they are dissatisfied and obstructed from achieving their goals. It is time to get out of your office and take the temperature of your key customers. Pick up the phone and start calling. The customer you save just might be your best one.

Note: This simple process forms the basis of a more generalized Top 10 Customer Dissatisfiers Program, which is a core part of our Customer Growth Strategy that helps you grow faster as you create powerfully loyal and engaged customers who are immune to overtures from your competition and actively invested in your success. Contact me if you would like more information at

How wrong can a CEO be?

In a Wall Street Journal article Carnival Cruise Line’s recently replaced CEO and current Chairman of the Board, Micky Arison, talked about Carnival Cruise Line’s difficult road to recovery. If you recall, the Carnival Triumph suffered from an engine room fire, leaving more than 4200 passengers stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for five days, with no hot water and very few working toilets.

Mr. Arison is quoted in the article as saying, “To put it into perspective, 3000 passengers were impacted by the Triumph incident. None was hurt. It was a passenger comfort issue. We apologized.”

Five days without a/c, or hot water and with raw sewage running down the halls is hardly a “comfort issue.” When your customers are so upset with you that they file lawsuits against you, it is slightly more than a “comfort issue.”

How wrong can a CEO be?

Carnival’s troubles began with the sinking of the Costa Concordia in Italy in 2012. In March 2013 the Carnival Dream diesel generator failed and passengers were flown home with a partial refund and a promise of 50% off their next cruise. A week later the Carnival Legend wasn’t able to make full steam, and limped back to port. Passengers received a $100 credit.

Clearly, Carnival’s mechanical problems have caused great harm to customer relationships. But perhaps the most damaging is the attitude of the CEO. I can guarantee that the cavalier attitude with which the CEO treats customers is propagated throughout the entire company, diminishing the customer experience and destroying customer trust. According to Gerry Philpott, president of E-Poll Market Research, only 4% of survey respondents viewed Carnival as “trustworthy” in 2013, down from 9% in 2011.

Mr. Arison, customers are not merely whiners to be placated. Bob Olson, former CCO of GoDaddy had it right when he taught employees to treat everyone who calls as they would a family member.

How can you help every employee, from the CEO to the security guard, view and treat customers as well as they might treat their mother, or elderly grandmother?  Or even better?