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CEO’s duty: Customer service rep?

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, likes to introduce himself as the com­pany’s customer service representative. He’s part joking, but his point is clear.

CEOs often say they want to create a customer-centric organization. In following through, however, they might lose sight of what buyers want—from simpler transactions to better service.

Newmark’s actions prove his devotion to the customer. His classified-list website operates largely for free. He interacts frequently with customers and listens more than he speaks. And when they complain, he prefers to fix what’s broken rather than defend the status quo.

By focusing on serving customers, Newmark preserves his brand. He knows that if his website is beset with spam or otherwise loses its luster, members will flee.

Internet-based businesses thrive when they cultivate a community of satisfied fans.

Newmark explains his refusal to sell the firm—and rake in huge personal profits—by citing what’s best for the customer. If he sells, he thinks a new owner might raise fees and insert intermediaries into the mix that would work against members’ interests.

Newmark’s success formula is to create a great product, help people use it and then withdraw and let the business evolve based on customers’ wants. When he founded Craigslist as an email list, he did not know how users would apply it.

After Hurricane Katrina, he noticed that people would use Craigslist to track each other down and get leads on jobs and homes. The fact that he put power in customers’ hands—and resisted the urge to establish rules, instructions and fees—fueled the growth.

— Adapted from What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis, Collins Business.

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