Many of you have seen the popular new CBS series titled, Undercover Boss.  Each episode follows a senior executive of a major corporation who is working incognito as a new entry-level hire for one week.  Through the experience they discover how the company really works.  The show is well done and sends out an important message to leaders:  You need to experience your company through the lens of the employee to truly understand what is working and what’s not.

Without fail, the undercover CXO identifies corporate policies that unfairly impact employees, costly inefficiencies and unsung heroes.  The leader also discovers how far removed he is from what happens day to day in the business.

I applaud the show’s intention and I want to suggest to the producers the next iteration for this show:  “In the Customer’s Shoes.”  Viewing a business from the employee’s perspective is a crucial first step but would be incomplete without viewing the business from the customer’s perspective as well.  I started to think about this more as I viewed Sunday’s finale featuring 1 800 Flowers President and COO, Chris McCann.  I applaud Mr. McCann’s efforts to better understand his employee’s experience.  It also prompted me to recall an experience I had with 1 800 Flowers a couple of years ago that still makes my blood boil to think about it.  I have not used them since.  Following is an abbreviated version of the letter I wrote to the Head of Customer Service,  Julia Kauffman.

 Dear Ms. Kauffman,

I am writing to share a very disappointing customer experience I had recently with your company.  I contacted 1 800 Flowers on Monday, October 15th to order a bouquet of flowers to be sent to my mother on her 84th birthday on October 19.  I began by going to your website and had to spend approximately 30 minutes trying to order a bouquet online but every time I attempted to pay for it my credit card was rejected.  Frustrated, I went ahead and called the 1 800 number.

This time I reached a sales rep who at best I would describe as incompetent.  I found myself repeating the same information over and over to her (her getting it wrong each time and needing to start again). I requested that the flowers be delivered on the 19th as we wanted them there for a party that would be taking place for my mother.  The rep said she could deliver them on Thursday or Saturday but not Friday.  When I asked why she simply said that was what her computer was saying to her.  She said she’d “try” to get them there on Friday.  I said, if not, Thursday would have to do.  After another 30 minutes, the transaction and order was complete.



The flowers did not arrive on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.  Despite the confirmation I received via e-mail.



When the flowers had not arrived by late Friday afternoon I called 1 800 Flowers to share my disappointment and ask for a refund.  I was told that the best they could do was credit back 20% to my account.  She shared that the only way to get a full refund was to have my mother send the flowers back on Monday.  This, of course, was not only insulting but laughable – I could just imagine my 84 year old mom packing up flowers…  As a last resort, the rep gave me your name and suggested I write a letter. 

Ms. Kaufmann, as you can imagine, this is not about the money – it is about the principle.  Businesses make promises to their customers and trust is built when those promises are delivered.  I have to assume that 1 800 Flowers’ promise is that you can order flowers easily, quickly and can feel confident that they will be delivered on time and be of quality.  Do I have that right?  My flowers were not easy to order and they were not delivered on time – the quality is yet to be determined…



The end of the story is that I did not receive a refund or credit and the flowers finally arrived 5 days late.  I would’ve loved Mr. McCann to witness my experience!

At the conclusion of Undercover Boss, the CXO brings together a large group of managers to share what he/she has learned.  It is easy to see what this endeavor communicates to the employees:

·      Our CEO “gets it”

·      Our CEO cares

·      Our CEO walked a mile in our shoes

·      Our CEO is courageous

For a boss to go undercover it does communicate caring, courage and commitment.  Taking it one step further, I encourage every leader to go undercover and experience what the customer experiences.  Without the benefit of a reality television show, I can make a few suggestions:

·      Work a day in your company’s call center and hear the issues customers have

·      Work on the front line in a customer-facing position

·      Hold a customer town hall and learn directly about what’s working and what’s not

·      Track a customer’s experience from start to finish and see where it breaks down

·      Read the letters dissatisfied customers write 

Follow-up on these activities with your customers through e-mail, blog postings or letters about what you discovered and what you are doing about it.  Just like the employee’s responses in Undercover Boss, your customers will recognize you “get it”, you care, and you are willing to walk a mile in their shoes – and that takes courage.

Leaders out there – get both sides of the picture.  Experience what your employees AND customers experience.  Communicating with your customers in this way will go a long way in building life-long relationships and loyalty.