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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The Complaining Cow Meets New Tesco CEO Dave Lewis

The background

Those who have been with me for a while will know that I think this is funny. Really funny. I started this blog with a complaint about Tesco back in July 2012 and how Clarke was pig ignorant compared to his predecessor and competition counterpart at Sainsburys. Then I ended up taking Tesco to court and then Tesco failed in paying up. Then there was the insect in the rice. Few others I think, then the last one was on my opinions on Clarke. Still say I was right and I saw the demise of Tesco coming years ago. The Complaining Cow’s history with Tesco for all continuing stories.

I didn’t actually mean for the blog to turn into a “Have a go at Tesco” site but it does appear to have more than its fair share of my complaints. Perhaps because Tesco is so big it therefore has more complaints, but I’m only using the one store so it is one store against all the other complaints so if you use that comparison one person one store then hey Tesco is pretty damn poor even if I shop more there than any other if you see what I mean?!

Clarke

Anyway, Tesco annoyed me so it had to be done. So when Tesco ditched the ignorant one (mind you, did you see his pay off for being rubbish? I thought that only happened in the public sector where it is more difficult to get rid of incompetence! See here story in The Independent – it was reported that Clarke got £10mill! Surely not for crying out loud? I always say customer service is not rocket science but these people clearly need a rocket stuck somewhere with a touch of reality thrown in. And Dave if you’re reading this and I know you are, then in your meeting on Thursday – yes we would all like to see Clarke pay back some money please and give it to your charity department. Not that one that begins at home, but the one that gives out to the community).

Writing to the new CEO

So where was I? Ah yes – so when Clarke was pushed I sent the new to be CEO one of these bottles. Remember what the foolish, ignorant out of touch with reality IDS said? “What is it?” Ha! I see a new career for Clarke. Anyway, Dave wrote to say thank you and would like to meet up when he started and told me to keep on complaining as that is how they would improve! Ha again!!! Wrote and told him it was a good start! He had replied at least and appeared to have manners. Time will tell if he has more than just better manners about him.

Here’s the funny part. Now, unless you are new here, you will know it amused me when the financial scandal hit the press, to go and test him. Many of my Facebook page likers agreed, many others didn’t think I would email him! They hadn’t been round very long. So I emailed him. I kindly acknowledged that he was busy but perhaps he would like to hear some customer views? Anyway, after asking me to give a few days when I was available and my replying with, any except Friday, I was given a Friday. Seriously. Anyway. I met him. Maybe he’s astute, maybe he’s mad or maybe he was plain scared! Who knows, could be all 3. But we met for just short of two and a half hours and told him there’s more! Well the man asked me for my opinions, what did he expect, he’d seen the blog?! When I told him I emailed him to remind him he wanted to meet with me because the timing amused me he said it was “cruel” in good humour mind.

The Complaining Cow meets Tesco CEO

Dave Lewis Tesco CEO & The Complaining Cow
Dave Lewis Tesco CEO & The Complaining Cow

I got offered a cup of tea straight off which was a good start and I was just about to complain here that there were no biscuits but I vaguely remember he did offer actually so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Next time on the plate just there, chocolate I think. 🙂 Earlier in the year I was invited up to AO which was great, the CEO with common sense. They treated me very well and it was a really interesting experience, but one tiny thing let them down, just one. I didn’t get a single cup of tea. When I got back to the hotel I drank 3 cups on the trot I think!

By the tobacco stand – didn’t notice that, urgh. That was his fault, he chose where to stand. Have to say, didn’t give me the shudders like taking a selfie with IDS did!

So, what did I tell him? I told him what sort of image Tesco has, as if he didn’t know. I told him that Adrian said “I used to shop there always. Now I don’t, I shop at Lidl and have done for 6 years saving circa £9,000 at the last reckoning. That’s all he needs to know!” Told him to look at the list of complaints on the Facebook page to save me listing them so go add your complaints there as well as below. 🙂 He said we may have different opinions on things – I said that of course we will, but mine would be right!

Most importantly told him my Mum’s complaints about Tesco and my 6 year old son’s – that the people who choose the shopping keep giving him pink Kinder eggs and toothbrushes. He asked me if I told Dave off. I did son, I did!

Told him his job was quite easy, frankly. It is not possible that he could be as bad as Clarke and short of going bankrupt it couldn’t get much worse so there is only one way to go. Sainsbury’s had a great CEO, (look at this article in the Guardian – shows just how much he was liked and respected by employee and the public) he had very good manners. As Marcus of www.ceoemail.com said “Leahy and King were gentleman.” Being a decent human being would appear to be important in making a success of a company. Filling King’s shoes – not easy. To be fair Clarke had a similar job filling Leahy’s. But he failed. Big time. I think the new CEO at Sainsbury’s has a much more difficult job than our Dave – whether I shall go offer my help to him remains to be seen…. I really should go and test his manners shouldn’t I?

Whether Dave or his driver last when they see how long it is going to take them to get back to Richmond from Cheshunt come December also remains to be seen!

I sort of mentioned the finance situation… he was good humoured about it, possibly because I took the mickey somewhat, probably light relief, but he  did say at that this stage he was not going to defend or otherwise his finance staff.

PR Department

I found out the Tesco PR department is absolutely dire. My words not his. Tesco actually does some good stuff which we don’t know about. (I know, high praise indeed given that it’s from me but I am harsh but fair.) Someone at the top has no idea what everyone else in the company is doing and is only firefighting or doing nothing and giving no direction or the whole department is utterly useless. Now, whether that someone at the top was Clarke or the head of PR (ultimately it is the CEO of course, but for how long will the new incumbent be able to play the “It wasn’t me guv” card?) it will make a nice change to pick on a  different department 🙂 ‘cos yes I’m going back. I’m going to chat to some of his senior staff, he’s even buying some of my books for them. There better be tea and biscuits.

Tesco Customer Service Contact Details

UK customer enquiries

Tesco Customer Services
Freepost SCO2298
Dundee DD1 9NF
Tel: +44 (0) 800 505555

Email: customer.service@tesco.co.uk

Oh and looky look I give you Tesco CEO email address He apparently only gets 2000 emails a day I’m sure he’d welcome some more. 🙂