Giving Consumers a C-Level Seat in the Boardroom

First Best Buy. Then Yahoo! And now, JP Morgan.

Each day, a new CEO/Chairman being fired/let go/resigning (choose one) from their post. At first I was sure the person who was programming the elevator Captivate! was playing some sort of joke. Nope. And I won’t comment or insert my personal opinion on whether their allegations were simple oversights or terrible ethical decisions. There is, however, one thing I feel like I can ascertain (without ever being one myself), regardless of whether you are a good or bad CEO – it’s a tough (insert explicative word of choice here) job.

Being responsible for all the information and recommendations your employees make and giving the final call on decision-making, is a lot of pressure. Having all of those decisions on one person’s shoulders can be risky business. So why leave those decisions on one person’s shoulders?

Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief People Officer. How about Chief Consumer Officer?! And why does it need to be just one person who sits on executive row in an office building, when it can be an entire community of your actual consumers, your target consumers or a target of where growth opportunity lies?

Our Community Managers frequently suggest to our clients that we run a simple, yet usually very engaging research question in our communities: “If you were able to share one thing with the CEO of _____, what would you say to them?” I haven’t met a client yet whose jaw hasn’t dropped when hearing the results of asking a simple, yet direct question (and when they are ready to know and engage with the honest truth).

I’m always inspired by companies that prioritize listening to their consumer. Here are a few great examples:

  • P&G: Past CEO of P&G, A.G. Lafley instilled a culture of listening to consumers and allowing them to innovate and collaborate with P&G. He truly lived and breathed Drucker’s philosophy that the role of the CEO was responsible for linking the outside world to the inside corporation. During his eight year tenure he was responsible for doubling P&G’s revenue.
  • Dell: A recipient of a Forrester 2010 Voice of the Customer Award, this brand used its social media channels to their full advantage to solicit customer feedback and implement action. They’ve celebrated customer reviews (of which they average 150 a day) and have hosted in-person Customer Advisory Panels.
  • Nordstrom: Nordstrom’s strategy has always been about putting their customers first. So much so, that this book is a trusted resource of principles of how other businesses can learn how to listen to their customers better. Industry observers even claim that their success lies in the fact that they have made customer service the good that they are really selling.

I’d love to see more CEO’s and other C-level executives putting their raw questions (the ones that “keep them up at night”) into a community. Why answer those company shifting, business-changing decisions alone?

After all, you can’t fire the consumer.