Customer Experience

The RISKY way one retail CEO is motivating his employees to focus on customer experience

The RISKY way one retail CEO is motivating his employees to focus on customer experience

Improving the customer experience is one of the most urgent tasks for companies today. Many brands know that providing a seamless experience and delighting customers is the best way to increase customer loyalty and, ultimately, drive profits. It’s no wonder many CMOs are singling out customer experience as a key competitive advantage.

In an effort to urge employees to focus on customer experience, one retail CEO is sending a strong message to his employees: delight our customers or get fired.

That message came from Restoration Hardware’s Gary Friedman. As reported by BloombergBusiness, the furniture chain’s top executive recently sent a scorching memo to his staff, comparing the company to a burning building with people on fire. A discussion with executives about the company’s recent struggles inspired the all-caps-laden missive.

Restoration Hardware CEO Gary Friedman
Photo credit: RestorationHardware.com

“We were sitting there discussing how the building caught on fire, why the building caught on fire, how long we expected the building to continue burning,” Friedman writes. “NO ONE WAS FOCUSED ON THE PEOPLE IN THE BUILDING WHO WERE ON FIRE. THEIR CLOTHES BURNING, AND MANY OF THEM DYING. WE HAVE LET CUSTOMERS DIE.”

The company’s main goal is to delight customers, said Friedman, adding “We need a MASSIVE CHANGE IN OUR CULTURE AND ATTITUDE RIGHT NOW.”

Friedman didn’t stop there. He made it clear that the consequence for employees that don’t embrace this customer-first mentality is significant. “YOU WILL NEVER GET IN TROUBLE FOR MAKING A DECISION TO DELIGHT OUR CUSTOMERS. YOU WILL, HOWEVER, LOSE YOUR JOB IF YOU DON’T.”

If Friedman’s message seems harsh, that’s because Restoration Hardware is desperate for a turnaround—fast. As reported by The Washington Post, the company’s latest quarterly earnings fell far below forecasts, sending its stock price crashing by 26 percent. Friedman promised shareholders that the company will improve the customer experience in order to drive business.

“As we have elevated our brand, especially at retail, other customer touch points also need to leapfrog forward to create a cohesive experience,” Friedman wrote in a separate note to shareholders. “This initiative will focus on everything from product quality to in-home delivery across all channels, and includes new people, processes and systems.”

As for his strongly worded memo to staff, Friedman told BloombergBusiness that his intention is to get the attention of his employees, empower them, and “make sure I’m not communicating through 15 layers of management.” Whether this move results in better experiences for customers remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: Friedman and Restoration Hardware need to show shareholders—and more importantly, customers—that it is serious about improving the customer experience. Doing so requires not just empowering staff to do everything in their power to keep customers happy—it also entails a commitment to learning about the evolving needs of the customers. Restoration Hardware will need to give employees the tools they need to engage with customers on an ongoing basis and get actionable insight on how to create better products, produce more effective marketing campaigns and deliver a more seamless end-to-end experiences.

Restoration Hardware, like many large retailers, needs a comprehensive, intelligence-backed strategy to improve customer experience. The timing couldn’t be more urgent: as Friedman points out in his memo, the company “cannot afford to lose one single customer. Not one.”

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