NPS (36) – Sustained Leadership Commitment – How to get and keep it – 36th article in a series on the Net Promoter System®

Welcome to the 36th article in my series on the Net Promoter Score and System. This time the subject is a tricky one: how to get and keep leadership commitment to customer experience work. These techniques have worked for me. I would love to hear what has worked for you.

You can read all of the prior articles in the NPS series on our blog page here.

Most leaders have a detailed understanding of the area they are responsible for. The majority do not have as detailed an understanding of what they need to improve for customers. This is where the Net Promoter System comes in. If you lead Customer Experience, this should be your main objective. At HP, I made it my business to propose customer-centric priorities to each of the other leadership team members as they went through their annual strategy cycles. At least some of these made it to their formal priority lists. I admit going through a ‘name and shame’ cycle with screen captures of Intranet sites that listed each leader’s priorities. I also supplied suggestions to the people who put those intranet sites together.

Short versus medium-term

Customers take time to notice and provide feedback on improved customer experience. Improvement actions you take today may take 6 to 18 months to produce a measurable difference in competitive NPS benchmarks. In the meantime, your leaders may have pressure to produce revenue and cost numbers each quarter that cause them to do things that negatively impact customers. This is the one area where there is no real solution. Almost nothing you do in customer experience this week can impact your company results this fiscal quarter. Many other functions have the same challenges, notably Marketing.

Trying to get leaders to act on facts, not intuition

As my own team published the quarterly competitive NPS benchmarks, I asked to be on the management team agenda for each business and function. The purpose was to review results and priorities. Without exception, the teams were highly engaged. There is somewhat of an art to such presentations, as it is all too easy to show up for a 45-minute presentation slot with 50 slides. Try to prepare the discussion with one slide per 7 to 10 minutes of discussion. You can add backup slides for distribution. The audience should be at least as interested in your insights about competitors’ trends as about your own.

Facing reality — leaders are still going to act first on the basis of intuition and emotion

Feed the intuition. Use emotion. Start your presentations, discussions, speeches and emails using an appropriate emotional appeal to your audience’s intuition. Dan Ariely refers to closeness, vividness and the ‘drop-in-the-bucket’ effect in The Upside of Irrationality.

  • Closeness is both physical and psychological. If you happen to be in New Zealand, start with an example of a problem faced by a specific local customer. Do not start by talking about a customer in India. Pick a problem your audience can identify with from their everyday lives, even if you believe it is not the most important problem. Think about using long queues for something, the prized Christmas toy being perpetually out of stock at the local store, or perhaps an error in a credit card charge. The problem does not have to be exactly the same as the one on the ‘Top 5 customer problem’ list; just close enough for your audience to relate to it personally.
  • Vividness is about including emotion in the way you tell the story. Let’s suppose your customers are complaining about delivery errors. Your story could be about how you ordered the latest popular children’s toy online for your nine-year-old daughter. You were delighted when the box showed up the day before her birthday, gift-wrapped like you asked. Then tell the audience how your daughter cried when she opened the box and the wrong toy was inside, instead of the long-promised gift.
  • Drop-in-the-bucket is about whether the people in the audience feel that it is within their individual power to make a difference. If they feel they could work hard on something that would take a long time and make a marginal difference, they will lose interest. If you are discussing a big and difficult problem, you should represent the problem you are addressing in terms of named individuals who work for local customers. At least the audience will feel a desire to help their local ‘drops in the bucket’. It is far more effective to sub-divide a problem into smaller components that provide benefits in the short term. If you are showing that a competitor has a clear lead in three areas, pick one (or a subset of one) that the audience you are addressing can recognize and address themselves. This of course means changing what you say and write, adjusting it to each new audience.

Customer ‘Open Hour’ at Microsoft North America

When Robert Youngjohns was head of Microsoft North America, he used to do something I admire. He held an ‘Open hour’ for customers about once a month. What this meant was that all customers knew they could dial in to a conference call line and talk to Robert. Since there was no practical limit to the number of people who could join, customers could also hear and dialog with each other. If you copy that, your executive needs to have a reasonably complete grasp of the business and current known issues, and have the self-confidence necessary to say, “I don’t know, and will find out” when necessary.

Executive sponsor programs

A practical way of letting senior people spend more time with customers is to implement an executive sponsor program. The role of the sponsor is to improve the overall relationship between your company and the customer or customers to which they are assigned. You should start by agreeing assignments to a single customer each. Ideally, the assignments should correspond to each executive’s areas of personal interest. Assigning them to former employers also works, provided they separated on good terms.

It is hard for executives to say no to the program, but not all will actually become active. It can be hard at the customer end too, as other companies may be trying to get time with the same contacts. Somehow, your program has to be different or better than your competitors’, or you just won’t get the engagement you require. Note that sponsors should never start off by participating in sales discussions about a current deal. That would destroy their relationship-centric credibility.

Listen to calls

Please note the plural in “calls”. It is a good idea to let senior people listen to multiple calls in your service center. Once they understand the agents’ work, you can let them take a call, supporting them in the same way you would support a new call center agent. If executives listen to calls, it is important to select the calls at random. If they only listen to your best-performing agent, they will have a biased view of the work. If your executives do not listen to enough calls, or just do it once, for a few hours, they will walk away believing that what they have heard is entirely representative of customer views. This means that the customer experience leader needs to do an excellent job of positioning the service center work as a hygiene factor, and needs to remind the executive that most customers do not call the service center. Unfortunately, many large companies outsource service center work for cost reasons, making executive participation difficult to arrange.

Next time

The next article will be the last in the series. I will suggest how you should start the NPS journey and make some closing remarks. And there will be a quiz!


As is often the case, the above is a slightly-edited version of a chapter in one of our books; in this case Net Promoter – Implement the System All of our books are available in paperback and Kindle formats from Amazon stores worldwide, and from your better book retailers.