As Seen in CFO Studio Magazine Q3 2016 Issue



One would expect CFOs from different industries to have very diverse opinions and concerns, but when customer service is the issue, “we all think alike,” says Brian Friedman, CFO of the New York Jets. “Whether your customers are 80,000 football fans or high net-worth individuals, at the end of the day, business is business and it’s all the same.”

Mr. Friedman spoke on “Delivering Customer Service 80,000 Fans at a Time — The CFO’s Role in Managing Operations, Finance, and Risk” at a World-Class Companies CFO Dinner, part of CFO Studio’s Executive Dinner Series, held recently at Park Avenue Winter, a well-known restaurant in New York City. In an interview, he said he found it “professionally validating” that everyone in the room felt the way he did about “the complexities of customer service, the challenges of dealing with high-value/ high-expectation customers,” and the CFO’s role in fulfilling customer expectations.

Mr. Friedman began the evening’s discussion by highlighting the scope of what customer service at the Jets entails: “On game day, we’ve got 80,000 fans in the seats [at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ]. The population of the city of Trenton is 85,000.” In contrast, he noted that one participant at the CFO Studio event had as many as 300,000 customers, while others had far fewer customers. Yet, as CFOs, their goals are identical: “We all have to make sure that we collect more cash than we send out.”

And that is why the role of the CFO, he explained, has evolved to include a focus on customer service and not just accounting. “When all is said and done, we are helping to shape the company’s strategy, helping to determine the allocation of investments and resources on an annual basis, and looking for opportunities to grow the business.” He continued, “The only way to successfully do this is to understand where your revenue is coming from. Delivering great customer service, and knowing your customer, is the key component of that.”

CFOs gathered at the CFO Studio event agreed that the day-to-day challenges they face in their efforts to make each customer feel that he or she is the most important person in the world are the same, “regardless of industry or widget.”

George Neal, New York metro area Regional VP of Sales for California-based Tidemark, a private enterprise performance management company that is a CFO Studio Business Development Partner, said, “With a tighter economic market, all companies are focused on understanding the customer experience and retaining that customer.” He noted that it only makes sense that the role of “the CFO has morphed into a strategic advisor to the business, as opposed to simply a steward of the business.”

Leveraging Technology

Mr. Friedman moved the dinner conversation in another direction by describing his organization’s leveraging of technology to deal with a unique customer service matter — safely and smoothly getting tens of thousands of fans from the parking lot tailgate parties to their seats before kickoff. That led to the group’s discovering another common thread: “We all agreed that Big Data is an over-hyped term,” he said. “It’s not about Big Data as much as people make it out to be. It’s about actionable information.”

Mr. Friedman added, “We’re all looking for sources of information that will help us make … decisions that can drive better customer service.” Some people will call that Big Data, he said, but “none of us felt that Big Data is the appropriate term for it.”

The CFOs agreed that data may be helpful, but can be useless, while information is invaluable. “What are we trying to do with data?” Mr. Friedman asked. “When gathering data, as CFOs what actionable information or intelligence can we get, and what decisions are we trying to make?” His conclusion: “Until we can clearly state what those objectives are, getting reams of data doesn’t necessarily do anything for us.”

Coming from a different perspective, Mr. Neal said it was very surprising to him that “technology providers assume there is enough information available about Big Data, but clearly CFOs must better educate themselves as to the tangible ways they can harness and leverage it.”

In the end, both gentlemen, and the CFOs attending the dinner discussion, acknowledged that while such debates are indeed intellectually stimulating, it is quite nice, every so often, to be in a room where everyone is on the same page and singing the same CFO and customer service tune.

Copyright 2017