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  • The C4I: Capon’s Customer-Centric CEO Index

    The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a valuable tool for companies seeking to understand the degree of customer loyalty they enjoy. In part, NPS's appeal is its simplicity; customers answer just one question. NPS is simply the percent of customers that actively promote your product less the percent of customers that are active detractors. In a similar spirit, Capon's Customer-Centric CEO Index (C4I) is a simple measure of your firm's degree of customer orientation.

    There is scarcely any senior executive today who doesn't recognize the importance of customers to the firm's financial health. Relationships with customers drive the firm's top-line performance; hence the role of NPS in trying to understand the customer-firm relationship. My concern is broader; I want to understand the degree to which the organization as a whole puts customers at the center of its activities, and is committed to using its entire set of resources to deliver customer value. What could be a better basis for determining your firm's degree of customer orientation than the behavior of your CEO?

    So, the C4I is very simple: C4I = The percent of time your CEO spends with customers. Consider some polar opposites: for example, C4I = 0 and C4I = 30.

    We could label the C4I = 0 CEO as the bureaucratic manager, internally focused and presiding over the entire organizational apparatus. Far from being central to the CEO's concerns, relationships with customers are something to be delegated to the marketing or sales departments. Organizational layers shield this CEO from the realities of the market place - from competitors, customers, and customers' customers. Lack of first-hand customer interaction means that the firm likely makes all critical customer-oriented decisions at lower organizational levels. Alternatively, if the CEO does make these decisions, they are based on information filtered through the organization.

    By contrast, a C4I = 30 CEO is highly engaged with customers. In B2C, some CEOs spend time on customer complaint phone lines; former Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher was famous for interacting with passengers; and Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of British retailing giant Tesco, and Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew (formerly CEO of The GAP) frequently walk around their stores talking with customers.

    C4I = 30 CEOs recognize that the firm's revenues are probably based on an 80:20 distribution - 80% of revenues generated by 20% of customers. In B2B, or in B2C where channel entities are increasingly important, powerful customers play an ever more critical role in deciding the firm's future. C4I = 30 CEOs use direct customer input to help plot the firm's strategy-recall Lou Gerstner's early days at IBM as he met with customers in the process of developing the strategy that would return IBM from a lumbering and declining giant into a preeminent industry player. And a few years ago, EMC's CEO Joe Tucci, changed his firm's direction only after meeting with the CEOs and CFOs of customers' customers.

    Furthermore, as strategic/key/global account management practices become more widely entrenched, the potential roles for customer-driven CEOs become increasingly obvious. Hank Paulson was an obsessively customer-focused on-the-road CEO at Goldman Sachs, and Larry Ellison is Oracle's point person at major customer General Electric. Other CEOs, like Sam Palmisano at IBM, are ready to be parachuted into customers to close a deal or redirect a contract that was headed for a competitor.

    The message should be clear. As IBM's Thomas Watson Sr. famously said, "Nothing happens until a sale is made." Even if you only half believe this statement, you must ask the question, "What is my CEO doing directly to help make this happen?" As a starting point, I suggest you figure out your CEO's C4I score. If it's in the doldrums, you owe it to your firm and the shareholders to do what you can to inch it upwards. CEOs, take note!

    Professor Capon is the R.C. Kopf Professor of International Marketing at Columbia Business School. He is author of Key Account Management and Planning, Managing Global Accounts, and The Marketing Mavens. His new textbook, Managing Marketing in the 21st Century, is a quarter the price of most competitive offerings.