There's a lot to admire about a CEO who stays in touch with customers as avidly as Steve Jobs. His “customer service from the top" approach sparked a recent Harvard Business Review blog post that's worth reading for any large-company CCO wrestling with the pros and cons of direct CEO contact with ordinary customers. Two sets of benefits and risks come immediately to mind for Apple and other companies following Apple's lead. First, Jobs reinforces Apple's fan base with every email response, even if it's only a couple of words. The risk: He could easily get ahead of Apple's formal customer-service channel, which has come under criticism especially in markets where no official Apple store exists. Could CEOs commenting on product and service problems unintentionally undermine their front lines?
Second, Jobs seems ready to take on all comers, who are drawn to his candor. The risk: If he's transparent about service issues and the arrival (or not) of new apps, does he set an expectation of transparency about other company-related issues that will be difficult to meet? (The concern about the communication around the Apple leader's health over the past few years comes to mind.)
No question, digital technology makes message control a thing of the past if it ever existed at all. Digital technology also makes message coordination more important than ever. The Page Society's report on The Authentic Enterprise argues for more, not less, of that coordination across C-Suite functions. Does a digitally adept, direct-to-customer CEO make that coordination more challenging? Yes. But in Apple's case, the reputation-building rewards that come from the digital conversations of this iconic CEO seem to be worth the associated risks.
Chair and Chief Executive Officer
Padilla Speer Beardsley
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