When I go into a meeting, I’m not the CEO; I’m the customer

Picture1040924 - Global Banking | FinanceBy Axel Rebien, CEO of Serrala

Business leaders all have motivations that drive them in the pursuit of excellence. Some are drawn to the sense of achievement when overcoming challenges, while others enjoy being at the helm of a ship powering innovation. One goal, however, is universal: to nurture a successful business and take it on a journey of excellence, and I believe the secret to achieving this lies in true customer centricity at every part of your business journey.

While I do not doubt that those other motivations drive CEOs to excellence, I believe there is one motivation that keeps some leaders ahead of the game, and that is the motivation that isn’t even yours. To guide your business and the direction of every decision to a fruitful outcome, it is important to ‘become’ your customer in mind and spirit. If you ensure that each decision is making a noticeable impact on the life of your customer, then more likely than not it will be a successful decision for your business.

To serve a customer well, walk a mile in their shoes

In my business, the customer we serve is the finance function, and the office of the CFO, so when I go into meetings, I take off my CEO hat and get into the mindset of the CFO – a role I have previously held – to walk in their shoes and consider them at every point of our discussion. Becoming the customer in this setting, “method acting” to an extent, and considering “my” pain points at every step of the way means that I can make sure we stay laser-focused on only developing solutions that make a notable difference to “me.”

For example, I know that one of the main things that keeps the CFO up at night is cash count. With this in mind, when I go into a meeting as the customer, I always bring the conversation back to how what we are developing actually supports working capital optimisation. As the “CFO,” is this making a notable difference to my role? Am “I” being liberated from inefficient manual processes? What is the time to value? If I don’t see how what we are developing improves “my” world, we go back to the drawing board, and the team is challenged to delve deeper.

As a result, I’m confident that our solution is making a difference. At Serrala specifically, we are providing a more effective way to optimise in-the-moment working capital by providing near real-time visibility into the financial health of the organisation through AI-driven scenario modelling, and predictive analytics, among other capabilities. I know that this alleviates concerns about cash count and means that finance leaders can instead focus on being a strategic partner to the business.

Staying within the customer mindset

This has by far been the most successful strategy I have implemented for running a successful business, and I wholeheartedly believe that more CEOs should adopt this approach. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a unique position as I was previously the CFO of Serrala and I have held other CFO roles over the course of 20 years. This has given me the intrinsic need to solve the pain points of my previous role, but most of all, it allowed me to, even now, to stay within the mindset of my customers through a range of ways.

Customer-centricity is something my team and I implement day-to-day. I meet with customers face-to-face at their offices or at industry events to understand their daily challenges, and I am still an active member of CFO networks, reading magazines and blogs that delve into the issues they are encountering. This mindset also goes beyond my own role; we have a dedicated customer experience team that hosts user group sessions, where we invite customers to our headquarters and spend a day learning from their challenges. We
also organize yearly customer summit events, enabling us to connect with and celebrate our customers. I believe any business leader can do this.

There is nothing stopping a CEO from seeking out different customers in their network, spending a day with each of them, and asking the right questions to understand their perspective and “become” them to support the development of their offering. I would strongly encourage CEOs to invest in customer-centricity at their level, but also at a company scale, encouraging every department and every employee to constantly ask themselves: Is this benefiting the customer?

While there are many different approaches to running a business, a business is nothing without its customers, so their pain-points, motivations, and ambitions should be at the core of everything a leader does. Developing that deep understanding of the customer mindset and walking in their shoes whenever you consider any decision that will impact them can unlock potential you never knew. Through this approach, I believe leaders can build businesses that are truly valuable to those they serve, today, and into the future.