A small piece in the Wall Street Journal on February 6 caught my eye.
It noted that GE CEO Jeff Immelt has ditched the corporate jet for trips to Washington and is now discovering the joys of the train. What is particularly interesting about this story is that GE is one of the largest manufacturers of locomotives in the world. Further, it provides all kinds of services to the rail business. And yet, under normal circumstances, Immelt wouldn’t have much of a direct opportunity to encounter his customers’ products. Just as manufacturers of autos often have no idea what their customer experience is like (although in another recession-related moment, Alan Mullaly of Ford used their own products in his recent road trip to Washington).
As I’ve argued in an earlier blog posting, companies often unintentionally create blind spots at the top of their organizations by insulating their senior executives from the normal headaches, hassles, and experience in general that customers go through. Now, I’m not suggesting that this is the case with Mr. Immelt, who I think is a top-notch leader. But what if he started a precedent? What if, to show solidarity with the people who buy and use their products, CEO’s began en masse to immerse themselves in the reality of their customers?
CEO’s of cable or telephone companies actually having to use their own customer service operations to get help.
CEO’s of computer companies having to purchase, install and upgrade (and update and update and update) their own machines
CEO’s of packaged goods companies having to do their own shopping
In fact, I’d love my readers to give their own ideas of the experiences they would most like a CEO to have—in person—as we move out of these times of grim tidings.