Great customer experiences don’t happen behind a desk or in a corner office. They occur on the front line as customers engage with employees and services.
Customer-obsessed leaders are foundational to a strong customer experience strategy. But being customer-obsessed requires leaders to know and interact with their customers. The best customer experience heroes are the CEOs who step outside their offices to work on the front lines and interact with customers and employees.
Research has found that CEOs who engage directly with customers can help improve products, boost customer satisfaction, and create a competitive advantage. Staying in tune with the real challenges of customers and employees and testing products in the real world provides invaluable insights CEOs can use to make customer-focused decisions.
Here are 10 CEOs who champion customer experience by working on the front lines:
Starbucks CEO Spends One Day a Month as a Barista
New Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan is jumping in with both feet and committing to work one half-day a month as a barista. His goal is to become immersed in the Starbucks culture and learn what it means to wear the green apron uniform of Starbucks baristas while staying close to the culture, customers, challenges, and opportunities that are only visible on the front line.
Uber CEO Steps into Roll as Part-Time Driver
To fully understand the experience of being a driver and the complaints, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi got behind the wheel and went through the entire process himself, from signing up as a driver to driving customers and dealing with app glitches and traffic. His time as an undercover driver showed him that Uber executives had made assumptions about the experience and gave him insights into how Uber can attract drivers and provide a better experience for drivers and riders.
Air New Zealand CEO Works as In-Flight Crew
Many airline CEOs fly their planes to see the crew in action, but Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran actually joins the crew. Foran regularly works as a member of the cabin crew serving snacks and beverages and assisting customers at 30,000 feet. He believes the best way to understand his customers and employees is to be right in the action and join them in the work.
Airbnb CEO Rents Out His Home to Customers
Backing up his words with his actions, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky lists a room in his San Francisco home for rent on Airbnb. The nightly rate is $0 and includes fresh-baked cookies. It’s a win for customers and Chesky, who can experience interactions from the host’s side. Chesky also regularly travels around the country to live in various Airbnb rentals and experience the stay from the customer’s side.
Tastyworks CEO Joins His Team on the Trading Desk
Scott Sheridan, CEO of tastyworks, a company that creates brokerage and trading technology, regularly sits on the trading desk with his team to help him stay in the loop of what’s happening inside the company. Working on the floor with customers and employees instead of in a private office keeps Scott connected to the company and industry, especially the needs of his employees and customers.
Zapier CEO Spends Time in the Contact Center Weekly
Wade Foster, CEO of workflow automation company Zapier, spends time every week in the contact center working through customer support calls. He says the practice helps him feel more connected to the work and customers and better understand customers’ needs and frustration. And he isn’t alone—all Zapier staff are required to take customer calls regularly.
PING Manufacturing CEO Regularly Works on the Production Line
John Solheim, CEO of golf company PING, grew up learning how to manufacture golf clubs. Now, he regularly steps in to help employees stay on top of orders in his growing company. John is trained in multiple roles on the production line and is known to spend his late nights, early mornings, and weekends keeping up with orders. John’s willingness to be in the trenches with employees builds strong relationships and sets the tone for an employee- and customer-focused company.
DoorDash CEO Delivers Orders to Customers
DoorDash puts its value of being customer-obsessed into action by requiring all salaried employees to make deliveries through its WeDash program including CEO Tony Xu. Delivering orders keeps Tony and all employees close to the customers to see their work in action. DoorDash donates money from the CEO-delivered orders to non-profit organizations.
Boot Barn CEO Sells Boots in Stores
When Jim Conroy joined western wear retailer Boot Barn as CEO, he was experienced in retail but not in western culture. He spent his first month as CEO working in retail stores, selling boots, and learning the business by interacting with customers. That early learning set the tone for listening to customers and inspired his long-term strategy that has led to huge growth for the company.
eBay CEO Travels to Answer Customer Support Calls
eBay CEO Jamie Iannone regularly travels to the company’s offices around the country. When he does, he spends time answering customer support calls to better understand customers’ needs and how processes can be improved. Working directly with customer support staff also builds camaraderie and gives Jamie insights into the employee experience.
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist and the bestselling author of The Customer of the Future. For regular updates on customer experience, sign up for her weekly newsletter here.