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Open letter to Kenyan CEOs, part 2

Jan 30, 2011 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Dear Kenyan Chief Executives

Last week I wrote to you to point out that if your company’s customer service sucks, there’s only one real culprit – the person you greet in the mirror every morning. Some of you may have taken umbrage at that suggestion, so do allow me to elaborate in this second part of my letter.

Customer service is all about getting ALL your people to pay attention to customers and serve them effectively, every day of the year. So does that happen at your place? Do your people jump up when a customer walks in, make immediate eye contact, engage with a friendly smile, ask what they can do to help? Or do they react with studied indifference, surly neglect, grudging offers of assistance?

In most cases it is the latter, as every customer (yourselves included) knows. Why is this, and whose fault is it? Most of you seem to think it’s a question of etiquette and training, which is why you spend untold millions on courses where people are taught to smile by wearing silly buttons. Then, when the fake smiles fade from their lips and the buttons rust on their lapels, you blame their bad attitude and lack of gratitude for the fine jobs you have given them.

Here’s the basic fact: unhappy people cannot make customers happy. They just can’t. The best customer experience happens when your people willingly and enthusiastically look after your customers. They do not need to be trained, coerced or threatened to do so. They just do it, because it matters to them personally that it is done well.

That’s the nub of the matter, and that’s where you come in. Look at any organization you consider great, and you will observe one common feature: it has something I call ‘buzz’. The people in it are as busy, as determined, as focused and as enthusiastic as bees in a hive. There is a vibe in the air, an energy that pulsates through the organization’s corridors. People enjoy working, and their lives at work have a bigger purpose. Any leader who can get that buzz going in an organization, and sustain it, will not have to do much else.

Back to you. If there is little buzz at your place; if your average employee just clocks in and clocks out; if the only reward you offer in exchange for work is the paycheck; if people could just as easily work for your competitor down the road; then there is only one person to shoulder the blame, and we both know who that is.

Your job as CEO is first and fundamentally to get the best out of other people. That in a sentence is what leaders DO. Their corner offices and fancy cars are a minor part of the game; they have to be judged on whether they energize and inspire others to be better – or not.

Employees who receive a standout employment experience will give customers a standout customer experience. That’s all there is to it. This has little to do with human-resource and customer-service departments, and almost everything to do with you, the overall leader. It is you who sets the standard by which the organization must abide. It is you who models the behaviours the organization must exhibit. It is you who coaxes others to be better than they think they can be.

And so, as you read this letter, please reflect on your record as a leader. Have you given your people a great place to work, a sense of community, an organization whose demise they would mourn deeply? Or is it just another contract? Do customers feel a special thrill, a feeling of being honoured when they walk into your company?

I’ll leave you to reflect on these important matters.

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