note to ceo: take a crap

I’m guessing most of you don’t frequently have the opportunity to tell your CEO to go take a crap, but that’s essentially what I did last year – and ever since, we’ve had a fruitful and rewarding relationship.

This, of course, requires some explanation.  The background is that my partner (Shawn Parr of Bulldog Drummond) and I had been engaged to kick off a brand revitalization effort for a restaurant chain.  As is the case with many of my clients, the challenge was less about setting the right brand strategy and more about engaging all stakeholders to execute it with excellence in the customer experience.  We decided to start with a worksession for the executive leadership team – our goal was to help them take an honest assessment of their brand execution in the customer experience.

For most of the worksessions I lead, I assign pre-work for the participants.  Sometimes it’s reading briefing materials, other times it’s doing research on competitive brands or consumer trends.  The value is the participants come to the session more focused and primed for discussion.

For this worksession, the pre-work assignment was to do some restaurant visits. But there was a catch: we gave them specific instructions to follow — including visiting the same location at various times of the day/night (to help them assess the consistency of the customer experience), to taking a friend along and asking him/her to complete an assessment (to help them see things they might miss), and to going to the bathroom and sitting on the toilet (to get the full experience of using the facilities, not just looking at them).  We believed this last step – essentially telling the CEO (and the rest of the executive team) to take a crap — would be a real eye opener — and indeed it was!

The participants came to the worksession armed with stories and pictures (part of the assignment) revealing how poor the customer experience was.  The CEO reported learning so much from the exercise because her m.o. was usually to go through the drive-thru, rarely going inside the dining room and never going to the restroom, much less sitting on the toilet.

It was uncomfortable for the executive team to give their sobering reports from the restaurant visits, but their collective frustration served as the foundation for the rest of the worksession.  The exercise aligned them with a common understanding of the customer experience problems and united them with a commitment to develop solutions.

Since then, we’ve been on a journey of developing a brand strategy that’s more focused and executable, and engaging the rest of the organization with the vision and their roles in delivering the brand throughout the entire customer experience.  The company is well on its way to regaining brand equity and its key business indicators have been improving.

It’s been a terrific engagement — and it all started with a simple exercise:  go sit on the toilet.  It’s amazing how much the details of the customer experience get overlooked.  Other eye-opening assignments I’ve given include:

  • For an e-retailer, order a product online and get it delivered to your home.  Most executives buy – or are given — their company’s products in the office and then take them home with them to try out. Many are surprised to see what their product and packaging looks like after getting shipped from the warehouse, taking a cross-country ride through the USPS, and getting dumped on a doorstep.
  • For a restaurant brand, order the items with the lowest sales mix.  Most executives try the newest products on the menu and have their favorites they always order.  But sampling some of the least popular menu items gives a sense of what a product is like when the ingredients have been sitting around for awhile and the chef or crew don’t have the proficiency that comes from making and serving the product frequently.
  • For a services company, make a complaint.  Corporate executives set and review service procedures and some might occasionally listen in on service calls, but there’s nothing like dialing up that 800 number themselves.  A CEO learns a lot from enduring the hold time (a 60-second wait time doesn’t sound that bad until you have to sit there listening to bad hold music), to trying to converse with a live representative (who may or may not have the skills, tools, authority, or inclination to fix the problem), to seeing how the complaint is (or isn’t) resolved.

There are plenty of other ways to illuminate a company’s opportunities to improve the customer experience – and some CEOs might not respond as graciously to explicit instructions on bathroom usage.  But I always try to work in a way to personally and deliberately engage in the customer experience the people responsible for making changes to it.

(This post is part of the Bathroom  Blogfest, a fun series of posts from a community of bloggers organized Christine B. Whittemore, chief simplifier of Simple Marketing Now. This is my first year participating in the series and I’m so excited to hear the different perspectives on this important aspect of customer experience.  Below is the list of all the other posts – happy reading!)


Name Blog Name Blog URL
Susan Abbott Customer Experience Crossroads http://www.customercrossroads.com/customercrossroads/
Paul Anater Kitchen and Residential Design http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com
Shannon Bilby From the Floors Up http://fromthefloorsup.com/
Toby Bloomberg Diva Marketing http://bloombergmarketing.blogs.com/bloomberg_marketing/
Laurence Borel Blog Till You Drop http://www.laurenceborel.com/
Bill Buyok Avente Tile Talk http://tiletalk.blogspot.com
Jeanne Byington The Importance of Earnest Service http://blog.jmbyington.com/
Becky Carroll Customers Rock! http://customersrock.net
Katie Clark Practical Katie http://practicalkatie.blogspot.com/
Nora DePalma O’Reilly DePalma: The Blog http://www.oreilly-depalma.com/blog/
Paul Friederichsen The BrandBiz Blog http://brandbizblog.com/
Tish Grier The Constant Observer http://spap-oop.blogspot.com/
Elizabeth Hise Flooring The Consumer http://flooringtheconsumer.blogspot.com
Emily Hooper Floor Covering News Blog http://www.fcnews.net/category/blog/
Diane Kazan Urban Design Renovation http://blog.urbandesignrenovation.com
Joseph Michelli Dr. Joseph Michelli’s Blog http://www.josephmichelli.com/blog
Veronika Miller Modenus Blog http://www.modenus.com/blog
Arpi Nalbandian Tile Magazine Editors’ Blog http://www.tilemagonline.com/Articles/Blog_Nalbandian
David Polinchock Polinchock’s Ponderings http://blog.polinchock.com/
Professor Toilet American Standard’s Professor Toilet http://www.professortoilet.com
David Reich my 2 cents http://reichcomm.typepad.com
Victoria Redshaw & Shelley Pond Scarlet Opus Trends Blog http://www.trendsblog.co.uk
Sandy Renshaw Purple Wren http://www.PurpleWren.com
Bethany Richmond Carpet and Rug Institute Blog http://www.carpet-and-rug-institute-blog.com/
Bruce D. Sanders RIMtailing http://www.rimtailing.blogspot.com
Paige Smith Neuse Tile Service blog http://neusetile.wordpress.com/
Stephanie Weaver Experienceology http://experienceology.blogspot.com/
Christine B. Whittemore Content Talks Business Blog http://simplemarketingnow.com/content-talks-business-blog/
Christine B. Whittemore Smoke Rise & Kinnelon Blog http://smokerise-nj.blogspot.com/
Christine B. Whittemore Simple Marketing Blog http://www.simplemarketingblog.com/
Ted Whittemore Working Computers http://www.kinneloncomputers.com/
Chris Woelfel Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co. http://www.artcraftgmt.com
Patty Woodland Broken Teepee http://www.brokenteepee.com/
Denise Lee Yohn brand-as-business bites http://deniseleeyohn.com/bites/

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