CEOs shouldn’t do customer service. Here’s why.

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Credit: Gordon Ednle. Used under Creative Commons.

Having trouble getting a customer service challenge resolved? Here’s a fail-safe solution: Email the president.

Late last year, I placed a large order from a Montreal-based retail chain that recently expanded to Toronto. Their wood furniture was beautiful and so was the in-store experience.

But while the brand promise was great, the customer service was a let-down. More than two weeks after paying for my furniture, I called the store to inquire about delivery date and was told to be patient. A few days later I called again. This time, the store representative told me they had no visibility into delivery dates. Emails to the company’s customer service address went unanswered for 20 days. I called the customer service phone number five times over several days and they were also unable to advise on when my order would arrive.

I got so frustrated that I did two things. First, I posted on the company’s Facebook page. Second, I emailed the company’s founders. Companies don’t want you to do this. They rarely post executive email addresses on their website. But with a little guesswork, it’s pretty easy to reach the right person. That night I got emails back from both founders as well as a telephone call from the company’s head of operations. On Facebook, a rep let me know my order was being expedited.  My Facebook post also elicited responses from a couple other customers who had experienced similar issues.

Then the next morning, I received a call from the third-party delivery company to advise that my furniture would come the following morning.

Emailing the chief executive officer gets results. I saw the same thing at the telecommunications company I used to work at. Complaints inevitably got answered far more quickly when the CEO knew about them.

This is great for customers but terrible for business. An escalation path to your top executive is expensive, inefficient and unfair. Your CEO should be focused on the engine, not the squeaky wheel.

Great companies understand that branding is about more than logos, advertising and in-store aesthetics. Brands are defined by fulfillment, operations, delivery and customer service. Amazon gets this. The online retailer almost never misses delivery dates and very often delivers products far sooner than the date they promise. 

(My twelve-year-old son reminded me that while Amazon gets the customer service part of branding, they’re not so good at the employee part of it.)

Some of the solutions are obvious. Emails to your customer service team need to be answered promptly. If you need more than one business day to respond, send an auto-reply to let the customer know when they’ll hear back. Make sure your customer service reps can actually service customers. This means they need to have visibility into delivery dates.

And here’s a big one that many companies get wrong. Make sure there is always an escalation path for your customer. If your rep can’t help, make sure they are able to get you to someone who can.

If not, your customers are going to take to social media. Or email your president.