As it appeared in the Daily Nation on September 8th 2020
Dr Lucy Kiruthu
Many business meetings are held in boardrooms. Meetings involving board members are considered of the very highest order. Originally, the boardroom was set aside for such meetings. Today, many other business meetings take place in this room. Meetings involving board members and the senior leadership are especially held with high esteem. It is no wonder that a lot of thought and effort goes into preparing for these meetings. Having been a board member and a member of senior leadership, I can attest to the preparations and they certainly go far beyond the refreshments and assorted snacks. In those closed-door meetings, major decisions are made. Some of these decisions affect customers. Is the customer voice well represented in such boardroom meetings?
Customers are not often invited to take a seat in every boardroom meeting when key decisions about them are being made. For a sales pitch, the customer would be most welcome. Customers are also invited for events such as product launches and customer education forums. Some smart companies go an extra mile; there is always an empty seat in the boardroom marked “customer”. About a decade ago, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the concept of an empty chair in meetings to represent the customer. Over the years, Jeff has obsessed over the customer and the experience the customer receives. No wonder he refers to the empty chair as being occupied by the most important person in the room. When he established Amazon.com, he referred to the company as a customer experience company. To this day, Jeff considers customer experience as the only sustainable differentiator. This has certainly reflected positively in the company’s financial performance. At Amazon.com, the customers are considered in decisions affecting them.
In most boardrooms meetings, financial reports take precedence over matters such as customer experience, customer feedback and customer retention. Nevertheless, the customer and the financials are closely related. If the customer feedback is negative, it will soon start showing in the financial reports. Unfortunately, in many businesses, boardroom decisions are made in disregard to their effect on the customer, or the experience the customer receives. A decision such as an increase in price may be good for the company but is it communicated to the customers in a timely and effective manner? Does increase in price reflect in an increase in value for the customer? Are there decisions that were recently made in your boardroom that have negatively influenced customer experience? How were these decisions communicated to the customers?
Today, we are living in the age of the customer. The customer remains at the centre of business survival. As such, the customer should be at the centre of all key decisions made in a company by its leadership and by everyone else. The customers’ voice needs to be heard loud and clear in the boardrooms. Every smart company needs to rethink its focus on the customer while making decisions. Are your decisions made with the customer in mind? Do the board and the senior leadership put the customer at the centre of decisions they make? Do everyday actions show that we consider the customer as an important player in our businesses’ success and survival? The customer needs to be well represented in every boardroom!
Dr Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy