Commitment to customer experience: true leaders make us all part of the team

Servant Leaders in Space!

Servant Leaders in Space!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how customer experience is the driving force behind many decisions that I admire … decisions that drive success for companies.

Some obvious examples are the obsession with design that Steve Jobs leveraged in crafting every interaction customers experience with Apple, and Tony Hsieh’s  innovative hiring practices that ensure every Zappos employee lives to deliver memorable customer service.

But it’s not just these big, glamorous examples — you can find commitment to customer experience all around you every day, and you remember it when you see and feel it. It’s clear in the person who owns your local corner store or restaurant who always wears a smile and perpetually seems to be thinking about ways to meet your needs whenever you see them. And just like with Apple and Zappos, you keep coming back for it, and tell others about it, too!

Then today I lingered over a fantastic Spin Sucks post from Ms. Rebecca Amy Todd that adds another example and a new dimension to my thinking on the importance of commitment to customer experience — it is a component of leadership. I think it connects with the concept of servant leadership. 

Rebecca was present when Commander Hadfield spoke at the Ivey Business School’s 90th anniversary event, and she took away some really smart lessons about how to be a true leader.  She also inadvertently reminded me that commitment to customer experience is a vital characteristic of true leaders.

Rebecca talks about how Commander Hadfield had two goals for his team on the International Space Station (ISS) — for everyone to make it back to Earth alive and for everyone to turn around and say, “let’s go again!”

Brilliant! These goals informed every subsequent decision he would make. And while the official goals may have been experiments or work on the ISS itself, Hadfield “kept these overarching goals in mind,” shared them with the crew, and focused on “building an environment of safety and excitement,” as Rebecca reports.

Hadfield’s commitment to the team’s experience of their time on the ISS was likely an important factor in keeping them engaged and ready to act when crisis struck. They had to fast-track an emergency spacewalk to deal with an ammonia leak at the eleventh hour before team members were scheduled to return to Earth.

A last-minute spacewalk outside the ISS is an extreme example, but I can remember instances of “customer-oriented” leaders from my own experience. My manager at my internship earlier this summer was really committed to my experience with the company, and it gave me a sort of buoyant feeling that’s hard to describe. And that stands in stark contrast with some other experiences I’ve had where leaders were focused 100% on delivery and bottom line.

The issue is even coming up in the dreaded group projects that I have to complete before I can finish school this December. One of my teams is trying to figure out ways to make it a good experience for everyone, because I mean, come on. No one wants to do group projects, even though our grades depend on them.

So the benefits of commitment to customer experience are many. First, from a marketing perspective, when you make decisions based on the experience you are creating for your customers, you end up providing products and services that resonate with people. And from an internal perspective, if you treat your team members like you treat your customers, you win their hearts and the spirit of the team can take on a life of its own to transcend mere performance goals and become something truly great.

What leaders do you remember from your life who were clearly focused on customer and team experience?

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One Comment on “Commitment to customer experience: true leaders make us all part of the team”

  1. Such a great post Dwayne! There’s a reason I imagimarried you in the first place. It is so amazing to me that you could look at the same story I did and come away with a completely different, and (equally!) brilliant lesson. I would not have picked up on this without your perspective. My first sales manager taught me that I have two sets of customers- internal and external. I try and let this guide me, although my natural me-ness sometimes gets in the way. How you’ve paired this notion with customer experience and one of my favourite Canadian astronauts is genius. Thank you!


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