Burden or Opportunity? One more job for the CEO

Man with Rock


We recently surveyed our 22 current clients. Without exception, they confirmed that something very new is afoot.  They report that their customers have come to expect new and different services from all of their vendors and suppliers. The services, however, are rarely specifically defined, and no one wants to pay for them.

What we hear most often is that a long-time customer who has been fully satisfied with our clients’ services in the past now expects both the current service and an additional service that includes advice on anticipating the future. Furthermore, they expect that insight and advice to be delivered by the CEO herself.

Aside from the time burden, the major challenge this generates is the need to provide innovative solutions from a staff that may traditionally have only provided order fulfillment. Some of my clients welcome this as a fantastic opportunity to define new service offerings to current customers. Others see it as an incredibly challenging change in the direction of today’s business model.

In working with a health care/benefits provider, he explained a transition in the approach his company took. In the past, he said, he had always worked with the human resources department to sell a series of services. He was in competition with dozens of other providers, and the decision usually came down to how small an increase in health care insurance and benefits costs he could negotiate. This is a clear example that to the customer, this was perceived as a commodity service.

With the political debate about the Affordable Care Act, the nature of his customer expectations radically changed. Now, instead of focusing on managing the annual increase in cost, my client’s customers were frantically trying to learn what impact the new law will have. My client’s job expanded exponentially.

Now, he needed not only to provide the original quotes and presentations for annual renewals, but he needed to spend a large part of his day talking with the CEOs, explaining to them what the law mandated…what they needed to be concerned about, and what they could stop worrying about. His primary focus became to relieve customer anxiety.

Another client is an expert in electronic discovery. When he is not actually before a jury testifying, he spends an enormous amount of time explaining to current and potential clients what they must do to protect their companies from threats that did not even exist 10 years ago. This is not a message to be delivered by email to the Director of Managed Services. This is a very personal conversation with the CEO to help him understand a very real and present danger.

Yet another client is in a niche market within the staffing industry. She has developed a managed service enterprise solution for very large organizations straddling the fine divide between in-house or outsourced creative production. The original client request was for an out-sourcing offer. The more comprehensive solution was a hybrid of in-house management and several other completely new elements.

The commonality of all these examples is that my clients addressed not only the immediate issue atOpportunity sign hand, but the deeper causes of the issue. To do that, they first had to gain the attention of the very top leadership, and then discover what caused the greatest anxiety for them. Only after that in-depth probing did they begin to design some innovative, customized solutions. Each one of them views the confusion and disruption in his or her industry as a fantastic opportunity, rather than an onerous burden.

If you are the CEO (or running a division of a larger company) how much of your time is spent in the
field? How much has that changed in the past five years? Do you see this as an unprecedented opportunity? If you are not spending time in the field, don’t worry. Your competitors who are will relieve you of that burden any day now!


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