Premier Customer Care as a Competitive Edge


As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q3 2015 Issue

CFOs have an important role in improving the customer experience

Improving customer experience can add more than $1 billion in revenues for large businesses, according to data from Forrester Research. Happy customers make follow-on purchases, recommend your product or service to others, and limit churn. No wonder more and more CFOs are taking a closer look at customer satisfaction scores (measuring if an organization is reaching its own customer satisfaction goals); net promoter scores (measuring customer loyalty and customers’ likelihood of recommending a product or service), and customer effort scores (measuring the customer’s difficulty getting desired results from the company).

Customer care was the discussion topic at a recent CFO Studio Executive Dinner for CFOs of World-Class Companies. An intimate group of finance executives from some of the region’s largest, most successful, and highest-performing organizations gathered for dinner, wine, and conversation at the Blue Morel Restaurant and Wine Bar in Morristown, NJ. The evening was sponsored by Yorktel, a communications technology provider, and hosted by CFO Studio and Real Estate Strategies Corporation.

Harald Henn, vice president and CFO of Mercedes-Benz USA, served as the dinner discussion moderator. “People often think in terms of product, rather than service, or they think process instead of culture. But all of these things have to coexist to be successful,” said Mr. Henn.

“The CFO’s job is to create growth, and you can’t do that without customers,” said Richard Veldran, CFO of Dun & Bradstreet. “Regardless of your industry, customer service is essential.”

“No matter what your role is, we all have to focus on the customer experience every day,” said Ronald Gaboury, CEO of Yorktel. “All the executives are, in effect, partners in serving customers.”

“The level of customer care a company provides is a distinct competitive advantage or disadvantage,” said Andrew Zezas, publisher of CFO Studio magazine and CEO of Real Estate Strategies Corporation. “With today’s CFOs becoming more and more strategic, they are becoming more focused on how they can help support their companies in delivering the highest level of customer care.”

Gunther Mertens, vice president and CFO of Agfa Corporation, said he believes that C-level executives, regardless of the business function for which they have primary responsibility, have to be concerned with providing high-quality customer service to ensure that their company is serving the customers end-to-end. “Customer service is more than recruiting and managing order-takers,” said Mr. Mertens. “It is about managing the process from the sale to delivery to support. If you hire the right people throughout that process, your business becomes a trusted partner.”

“To really support business, I have to be in the know about the customers, said Burkhard Zoller, CFO of Evonik Corporation. Mr. Zoller is in the specialty chemicals industry and pointed out that while the Internet allows some consumer companies, such as Mercedes and Avis, to have access to immediate customer feedback, business-to-business organizations have to actively seek out feedback on the customer experience.

Maximo Nougues, CFO of Maquet Medical Systems USA, agreed. “Today, in the medical engineering industry, the customer experience has become much more important than it has ever been.”

Mr. Nougues went on to explain that sales is just the first step in winning and retaining business. “The moment you earn a customer’s business, you are at a disadvantage because now you have to earn their business every day. The competition then has the advantage of being unknown.”

“Even if customer service isn’t your direct responsibility, it is your responsibility as a leader in your company to demonstrate to the other employees that you are focused on customer service,” said David Wyshner, senior executive vice president and CFO of Avis Budget Group, Inc. Mr. Wyshner also said that among the typical numbers and descriptions contained in an annual report, Avis dedicates a few pages to the “voice of the customer,” because that sheds light on corporate performance.

Mr. Henn shared the fact that Mercedes benchmarks customer service not just against companies within the auto industry, but against outside industries as well — from hospitality to e-commerce — to find customer care best practices.

Robert Costantini, executive vice president and CFO of ORBCOMM, Inc., summarized: “Nothing [in business] happens unless you have customers, so you better have happy customers. A CFO will always deal with customer service at some point. Proactive CFOs get on it on the front end.”

Retail Success Strategies


As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q3 2015 Issue


The rapid adoption of online shopping by consumers worldwide has opened new sales opportunities to retailers, and in many cases, has helped to cut selling costs.

But online sales have also forced companies to reexamine the way they drive traffic to stores, integrate online and retail channels, and maintain customer loyalty in a connected world, according to CFOs who took part in a panel discussion entitled, “Retail Success Strategies and Managing Business.” The panel took place at the CFO Innovation Conference, attended by over 400 CFOs and other executives, and held recently at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

Online retailing offers companies more ways to interact with consumers, but it can also create operating headaches, reported Michael Mardy, CFO of Tumi Holdings, Inc., a South Plainfield, NJ-based company that offers a comprehensive line of travel and business products and accessories in multiple categories. “We compete on quality, but the Internet allows people to immediately do price comparisons with competitors, and this can make it difficult to ensure that reseller partners maintain the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.”

Other companies face similar challenges. Steve O’Connell, CFO of Lenox Corp. — a Bristol, PA-based leading tabletop and giftware brand — noted that his company has minimum advertised pricing (MAP) policies, with a tiered structure that varies by selling outlet; but he also reports problems with discounters. “However, brand quality can help a product to stand out,” he said.

Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., a New York City–based luxury sweets company, gets that concept. Godiva CFO David S. Marberger said his firm continues “to work on ways to drive people to our stores,” offering bright, splashy website graphics designed to tempt customers to make a trip to a Godiva shop, while giving them the convenience of online ordering.

“Either online or at a store, you’ve got to make the shopping trip a positive, convenient experience for them,” he added.

Part of creating the shopping experience involves brand management, which can be challenging in a global environment.

Godiva has a global brand, “but we tailor it to local tastes,” said Marberger. “A big seller in Japan is our ‘diamond’ piece, which retails for $25. The U.S. is a bit more price-competitive, so we have to be aware of that, but we are able to achieve leverage from our global presence by importing some practices when it makes sense to do so.”

For its part, Lenox maintains the consistency of its brand while tweaking the product mix to meet national demands, according to O’Connell.

Companies are also using big data — huge amounts of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data that can be mined for information — to stay ahead of trends and to stay connected with individual customers, noted panel moderator Mark Mishler, a veteran CFO who has held positions with publicly traded and private equity companies.

Tumi, for example, achieved some unexpected insights after analyzing the “tremendous amount of information” on its customers, said Mardy. “We always thought we were a men’s brand, but it turns out that women account for more than 60 percent of the purchase decisions about our products.”

But integrating the information from all sources in a useful way can be a challenge.

Marberger, for example, said that Godiva sometimes struggles to patch legacy systems together. Lenox’s O’Connell said that his company is investing heavily in IT reporting systems, “though not so much in big data activity.” —Martin Daks

Copyright 2017