Calling all CEOs: please read emails from your customers and learn about your own business

What happens when CEOs read emails from your customers and learn about your business

You may well be an overworked CEO but when CEOs make corresponding with customers part of their work routine it can be extremely beneficial to business.

Tesco CEO used reading customer emails to help turn stores around

Tesco Group CEO Dave Lewis Helen Dewdney in storeWhen I met Dave Lewis the Tesco Group CEO soon after he started in 2014 he told me he got 2,000 emails a day! Gulp. But he also told me that he spent much of his first two weeks in the job reading emails from customers. He wanted to know the sort of things that customers complained about.

He then explained to the executive team how he wanted people to respond to them. (See more on my relationship with Tesco in the Tesco & The Complaining Cow case study)

The newly-arrived CEO of one of the biggest retailers felt it important enough to look at customer complaints as a key part of developing his strategy. Now he is less likely to respond personally (even to me!)

Tesco said “Dave responds personally to customers when he can, as do other members of the Executive team. However to ensure that we can get back to customers promptly, we also have a dedicated team of colleagues who respond to emails, letters and calls, and are equipped with the tools and systems needed to properly investigate and resolve complaints.” One wonders how much time he spends looking at complaint emails now.

However, when he started, customer complaints certainly fed into his strategy. I was mentioned in his Tesco Plc Half Year 2014/15 Earnings Presentation October 23rd 2014 along with all the complaints I brought with me.

I’ll tell you a little story, if I may. I spent three hours in a store on Friday afternoon with a lady who some of you may know. She has a blog called The Complaining Cow. She — no, it’s really important because some of your harshest critics are where you learn the most.”

So, if CEOs aren’t looking at complaints perhaps they aren’t learning? Has Lewis stopped learning? No, he’s certainly still listening to his customers. I exclusively interviewed him and Matt Davies taking customer complaints and questions directly to them.

Tesco | Complaining Cow meets Dave Lewis and Matt Davies

Energy for emailing

Greg Jackson, the founder and CEO of Octopus Energy, says he spends 30-60 mins a day on direct customer contact (almost all email, but a bit of social and occasional phone). He says;

“If a CEO says they care about customers, do they mean it if they don’t deal with customers themselves? If a CEO can’t spend 30 mins a day dealing with customers I don’t think they can say Greg Jackson against a wallcustomers are a priority No number of reports, surveys or anything else will tell you more about how you’re doing as a business, and if you’re not there for your customers, how can you ask your team to be? I want to see what customers are saying. If it’s a complaint – what did we get wrong, and why? How can we fix it so it doesn’t happen again? If it’s a service request, why did the come to me? Did we not make it obvious, or have we got a glitch or an issue? If it’s praise or customer ideas I love to see it!”

These are many good reasons for reading, and responding to, customer emails.

A recent tweet from Greg demonstrates the importance he puts on reading correspondence:

King of customer emails

Justin King faceJustin King was CEO of Sainsbury’s from 2004 to 2014. In the three years from when King started, Sainsbury’s announced twelve consecutive quarters of sales growth. Its target of growing sales by £2.5 million was met three months ahead of schedule Despite the huge growth he found time to respond to customers. In 2012 he was responding to customers directly. Even over the Christmas period.

In Sainsbury’s Justin King shows how to care for customers I showed how he responded to me about an order for the next day. I then wrote up the story for the blog and that was years ago and blogs and social media use has only increased. You never know where your service stories will end up and who will read them! Businesses would do well to always keep that in mind.

Ex BT CEO saw true picture

Gavin Patterson faceIt wasn’t a case of King having more time and receiving fewer emails back in 2011. Gavin Patterson was CEO of the BT Group from September 2013 until February 2019. He spent an hour each day responding personally to customer emails. He believes that customer feedback is the single most important category of information coming into the business.

As a CEO keeping an eye on customer correspondence, you get to see a true picture of what your company’s service is really like. Patterson says it is

“An unfiltered view of our business and its impact on our customers’ lives The huge range of demands on my time means that it would be easy to become isolated or insulated from the views of our customers; dealing personally with complaints helps to avoid that happening.”

You will also see patterns emerging, such as the customer service handling of certain issues and how and why they are escalating those issues to the CEO.

“Email me directly”, says CEO

Rarely do you see a company actually providing the email address of a CEO in its complaint process! But it is there at Octopus Energy, one of the newer entrants into the domestic energy market. Actively encouraging customers to email him, Jackson says of the strategy “I’m the ultimate pressure release valve… with many companies people get frustrated because they end up in customer service hell – endless circles of people not solving the issue. As the boss, I can either solve it or definitively say it can’t be solved.” CEOs would be wise to heed his words. Octopus Energy already has a reputation for good customer service and for many customers this is more important than the cost of a product or service.

Dave Lewis recommended even before he met me that I “Keep on complaining as that is the only way we will improve”. Getting those complaints is essential if you want to improve and sometimes you just have to see it for yourself.

Dave Lewis told me that in his first couple of weeks he responded personally to customer emails. He wanted to understand what kind of issues came in and to instruct staff how he required them to respond. Nowadays it is less likely that he will respond personally but Tesco says that where Dave can’t personally respond, he is regularly updated on the contact that comes in, and the entire executive team pays very close attention to customer feedback. It said

“Dave responds personally to customers when he can, as do other members of the executive team. However to ensure that we can get back to customers promptly, we also have a dedicated team of colleagues who respond to emails, letters and calls, and are equipped with the tools and systems needed to properly investigate and resolve complaints.”

Advice for CEOs

If you, as a CEO, are regularly reading correspondence from customers, you can genuinely empathise with your team and that will reap its own rewards as staff feel recognised and valued from this.

Jackson believes senior staff should handle the consequences of their decisions and actions. For example, when Octopus Energy recently put up their prices the Chief Finance Officer sent the email and personally responded to all the replies.

When you are open and accessible, it reflects well on the business, so it’s great for your company’s image and reputation too.

Marcus Williamson is the editor of the consumer information website ceoemail.com He set up the site in 2010 after seeing the consequences of poor customer service. Williamson says

“Customers want to be able to reach out to the CEO. When customers feel that their problem is serious enough, or that so much of their time has been wasted, CEOs can benefit from their customers’ need to be heard.”

Most importantly, what do customers say? Rhiannon recently contacted Jackson and was delighted with how quickly and “more to the point easily”, he resolved the matter for her.

“It’s hard to be intimidated by a CEO who uses his first name only in an email address. He emailed her in the middle of the night. “Positively, constructively, and understood where I was coming from.”

Surely this is the kind of comment is what you want to hear? These customers really feel valued and I’m certain you don’t need me to tell you what valued customers will give you in return!

If you are interested in working with Helen see Services for a variety of innovative customer-focused solutions to your business needs. You can contact her with your own ideas too of course! Services.

 

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Download Tesco & The Complaining Cow case study.

ASA bans BT advert as misleading (not for the first time)

The ASA complaint against BT

Today (27/02/19) the  Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced that it has upheld a complaint against BT. The complaint was received from Virgin Media (the irony) regarding a national press advert and claims on the BT website seen 19 May 2018. The ASA listed the below on its website regarding the complaint:

“a. The press ad included the claim “UK’s most powerful Wi-Fi vs. major broadband providers” as a feature of the Infinity broadband package. The claim also appeared as a feature of the Unlimited Infinity package. The ad featured an image of the BT Smarthub.

b. The BT website featured the headline claim “BT Business Smart Hub. The UK’s most powerful business wi-fi signal vs. major broadband providers*”. Further text stated “*Better than all other major UK business broadband providers, giving you the strongest signal furthest from the hub. Tests prove it”.”

BT logo

 

Virgin challenged the claims saying that they were misleading and could not be substantiated.

The ASA response to the BT complaint

The details of the response, assessment and action are detailed  in the ASA Ruling on British Telecommunications plc t/a BT

In short, the ASA found that BT broke rules on  Misleading advertising, Substantiation, Exaggeration and Comparisons with identifiable competitors.

ASA action against BT

The ads must not appear again in their current forms. The ASA has instructed BT “… not to claim that their routers were “the UK’s most powerful” unless they could demonstrate that they could provide a stronger signal than other major providers when subjected to other forms of non-Wi-Fi interference, and unless they could provide recordings of the levels of all types of interference when each router was tested to demonstrate that each router was subjected to consistent levels of interference.”

BT has previous for breaching the ASA code

The ASA has received a number of complaints about BT’s advertising over the years. Most have been upheld resulting in BT not being allowed to show ads in the same format. They referred to a variety of adverts, website, emails, publications and TV. Various issues were raised and investigated, upheld and action was taken against BT 11 times from May 2014.

BT is not alone. Put in any other telecom provider and you will find similar. When I asked the ASA about BT’s track record a spokesperson said that it needed to take a proportional view. “BT produce thousands of ads a year across media in a highly competitive sector. In that context, a handful of upheld rulings points towards an advertiser that, by and large, plays by the rules. It would be different, say, if BT produced 20 ads a year and we found them to have broken the rules on several occasions. As a proportion of the number of ads they produce, which is a prolific amount, the number of issues to crop up is low.”

Does the ASA have any real powers?

The ASA investigates complaints and tells companies that ads cannot appear in the same form again. Is it just a slap on the wrist? The adverts have run so the companies don’t lose anything?

Another issue is the time it takes for the ASA to investigate. So many months have passed by the time the ASA has made its judgement that any consumers who took on a service or bought a product on the claims of an advert have already been stung.

ASA

The ASA says that it bans adverts that break the rules so they can’t appear again. It says that the company receives negative publicity/reputation damage when it  is at the wrong end of an ASA ruling. However, how many people look at ASA rulings on a regular basis? And how many of the investigations reach the media? A spokesperson for the ASA said  “An investigation and having an ad campaign banned costs the company involved time and money in responding to our queries and providing evidence to back up their claims. It can also cost a company money, in some instances a significant amount, if we ban an ad campaign that is planned to have a long run.”

The ASA claims that rulings can affect share prices. They say this on the back of conversations with companies  saying only that the companies would need to provide this evidence.

“The majority of advertisers work with us, are committed to responsible advertising and agree to follow our rulings. There are sanctions in place for those who are unwilling or unable to work with us. These include prohibiting an advertiser media space – we liaise with media space owners who won’t run their ads – removing paid search ads for the company, mandatory pre-vetting of ads and. ultimately referral of non-compliant advertisers to our legal backstop, Trading Standards who can and do have statutory powers. They can issue fines and prosecute offenders. In some instances this can involve advertisers being sentenced to prison.”

So in effect the real financial damage comes when and if Trading Standards gets involved or if the case hits shares which in essence can only happen if the case hits the media. With the cuts to Trading Standards budgets the likelihood of any local branch taking action against a company is remote.

What can consumers do?

Consumers should continue to report any issues they see with advertising to the ASA. Some issues do hit the media. Such as the Virgin Media story in 2018 (and the ASA refused to investigate that one!) and the Amazon story in 2018 where it told Amazon to ditch ‘guaranteed next-day delivery’ claim which did stop an ongoing advert. many of the complaints investigated come from just one complaint received.

If you took out a service on the basis of a claim though you can try and get out of a contract with no penalty. Use the The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (amended 2014).

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If you have another complaint about your telecom provider see All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers

Further help in complaining

book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

 

For advice, tips, consumer laws, information and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!