5 Traits of a Customer-Focused CEO

CEOs have a lot of responsibility. From building and growing teams, developing a product, making sure you have enough funding or profit for payroll, helping team members learn and develop, and more, it’s not the glamorized and jet-setting role you might see in movies.

At Tuff, we believe one of the biggest and most important responsibilities is leading by example when it comes to your customers. 

Oftentimes with startups and small businesses the CEO is the very first customer support hire. When you’re validating your idea and just getting started, you’re the one responding to customer emails and picking up the phone. As your company grows, it makes sense to fire yourself from this role and hire someone who can do it even better - but you can’t lose touch.


Through our time working and leading customer support teams and working with clients around the world, we’ve identified 5 characteristics of a customer-focused CEO. 

Do you practice these?:

     ✅ Views customer support as an opportunity to maximize, not a cost to minimize

     ✅ Empowers teams to collaborate on behalf of customers

     ✅ Takes the time to engage with customers

     ✅ Communicates short term and long term vision

     ✅ Guides employees and decisions using team values

Below, we dig into each trait and highlight two real examples from CEOs on social media, in blog posts, through organizational decisions, and more. We hope it’s helpful to see these in action!

Views customer support as an opportunity to maximize, not a cost to minimize

Example #1

Buffer is a software that offers a number of tools to manage social media. They’re also known for their transparency and progressive culture. In a recent blog post, ‘The Next Evolution of Transparent Salaries: Our New Remote-First Formula and Updated Salary Calculator’ they address their salary formula. Deciding the average salaries for Advocacy (support) team members is below what they think it should be, Buffer added a role multiplier to their salary formula to address this. By offering a higher salary for the work of the Advocacy team members they quite explicitly let the team know that the work of these team members is more than just replying to a queue of emails. Here’s an excerpt from that blog post:


Example #2

Katrina Lake, the CEO of Stitch Fix takes to Twitter to recognize their client experience and stylist teams. By publicly celebrating the work these teams are doing, she reinforces their importance and value to the larger team:


Empowers teams to collaborate on behalf of customers

Example #1

It takes an intentional effort to combat silos that easily creep into growing teams. In a recent study, Walker identified companies that recently experienced double-digit growth and compared their CEOs to those at companies with little or no growth. One of the characteristics they identified in their study of over 550 CEOs is ‘coordinates across silos’. Mailchimp has bridged the gap between their support teams and product teams with the roles of technical advisors and support product analysts:


Example #2

Nick Francis is the CEO of Help Scout, a team building great customer support software and providing quality education and information on customer service. In this tweet, he’s recognizing the work done between multiple teams - marketing, customer support, product, designers. By celebrating their collaboration publicly, he reinforces the importance of cross-collaboration:


Takes the time to engage with customers

Example #1

Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO of Ellevest, an investment platform created specifically for women. In this example, she’s taken the time to respond to a question she received from an audience member. By taking the time to respond to Anna and answer her question, she demonstrates to her team the importance of engaging with customers and community members as well as shows future customers she’s dedicated to them:


Example #2

Brian Armstrong is the CEO of Coinbase, a platform you can use to buy and sell digital currency (bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin). He shared this tweet with a video of him answering customer support calls. We love this example because not only does he share with Twitter that he’s spent time answering calls, he gives us a deeper look with this video and we get to hear how he interacts with customers:


Communicates short term and long term vision

Example #1

Alyssa Ravasio is the CEO of Hipcamp, a marketplace for landowners to list their land and generate revenue by helping people get outside and book their sites to camp overnight. Every year Alyssa shares a blog post on the Hipcamp Journal sharing her vision for the year. She could only share this internally but by making it public there’s an extra level of commitment to all stakeholders and customers. Here is an excerpt of Alyssa sharing some of what is ahead for Hipcamp in 2018:


Example #2

Here we have another example from Katrina Lake. By taking the time to share that Stitch Fix made the decision to go public and that it is ‘just the beginning’, she’s explicitly communicated what she believes is ahead for Stitch Fix:


Guides employees and decisions using team values

Example #1

Ben Chestnut is the CEO of Mailchimp, the marketing automation platform. This one is quite clear in his own words. Mailchimp shared a blog post detailing some of the times things didn’t quite work out. As Ben says, it reinforces their core value of humility. By using the weight of his leadership and celebrating failure and vulnerability, he sets a powerful example for the rest of the team at Mailchimp:


Example #2

Jason Fried is the CEO of Basecamp, a project management & team communication software. Again, as CEO, his example carries a lot of weight. By publicly writing on this topic and sharing on Twitter, he reaffirms Basecamps culture of autonomy and trust in employees to manage their time and work:

Over to you!

What characteristics do you think a customer-focused CEO should have? Agree with these? Disagree? Give us a shout on Facebook - we’re excited to jump into the conversation with you.

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