Timeless Advice About Chief Customer Officers

It seems like there’s been a pickup of interest in the title of “Chief Customer Officer.” I’ve “studied” this role for a while and have worked with dozens of these execs (they often have a different “title”). Here’s my advice for companies that are considering this role that I published in 2007 in the post: Chief Customer Officer: To Do, Or Not To Do?

There’s a question that I’ve heard a lot that seems to stir up some debate: Do firms need a Chief Customer Officer? Well, I’ve run into zealots on both sides of the argument.

Those who say “absolutely yes” are convinced that companies can’t change without a senior executive who “owns” customer relationships, someone who can bring senior executive visibility to all of a company’s  customer-facing efforts. The argument is compelling — customers are certainly important enough to deserve a dedicated executive.

Those that say “absolutely not” are convinced that companies can’t just fix the problem by creating a new executive position.  They believe that this ends up being a superficial move — like putting lipstick on a pig. The argument is compelling — people often call for a new executive whenever they don’t know what else to do.

It’s an interesting dilemna when both sides of an argument are compelling. My position on this question is equally dogmatic: Absolutely yes and absolutely no.

To understand my position, let’s start by shifting the questin a bit. Instead of asking whether or not you need a person with the specific title of “Chief Customer Officer” let’s ask whether or not you need an executive in charge of a concerted effort to improve customer experience across the enterprise. If a company is truly committed to improving their customer experience, then an executive in charge of that change process will be very important. That person (who may or may not be called “Chief Customer Officer”) can lead a host of efforts like the establishing customer experience metrics and developing of a voice of the customer program.

But this type of position only makes sense if the CEO is truly committed to a significant change and will hold the entire executive team (not just the new executive) accountable for results. If the plan is to make the new executive responsible for “owning” the customer experience, then don’t create this position — it will only provide a handy scapegoat for executives who don’t make the required changes in their organizations.

While we’re on the topic of leading customer experience change, I’ll also point to a post from 2008: Corporate Customer Experience Groups; To Do Or Not To Do? Here’s what I discussed in that post:

Transformation isn’t easy. There’s a very strong need for a centralized group when companies are in a transformational mode, making changes that cut across the entire organization. This type of effort can’t be done without centralized support and facilitation. But companies that invest in centralized groups before the organization is committed to the journey are likely to either 1) completely offload responsibility for customer experience to these groups; or 2) stifle these groups through internal politics. In either case, they are likely to fail.

While these groups are important in some phases, they should never “take over” customer experience activities. Instead, they should facilitate and support transformational activities across the organization. In my research, I defined the following 8 categories of activities that these centralized customer experience organizations work on:

  • Customer insight management. Develop and support a voice of the customer program.
  • Customer experience measurement. Create and track key customer experience metrics and related management dashboards.
  • Employee communications. Make sure that employees are informed and engaged in the efforts.
  • Process improvement. Help the organization map interactions from the customer’s point of view and then redesign broken processes.
  • Customer advocacy. Make sure that customers’ needs are taken into account in all key decisions.
  • Culture and training. Actively work on cultural change and identify training required along the way.
  • Issue resolution management. Establish and support the process for solving customer issues that get escalated.
  • Cross-organizational coordination. Support the cross-functional teams and processes that govern the customer experience efforts.

The bottom line: Chief Customer Officers can be valuable in the right enviornments

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

6 Responses to Timeless Advice About Chief Customer Officers

  1. Pete Bosse says:

    Excellent insight. I agree that executive sponsorship and commitment are required for any customer centric initiative to survive and thrive. The title and specific role of the person charged with execution appears less relevant than a shift in cultural bias toward the customer.

  2. Jay Acunzo says:

    Thanks for the post. I found myself wondering whether the company size would matter. I’ve recently become interested in the topic of UX and Customer Experience, and this blog was one of the first sites to which I was referred. Interested in knowing if when you’re small (25-50 employees, let’s say), this title would be useless (too many other priorities, not enough capital to pay a new C-level, etc.).

    Seems to me that before becoming a large corporation, Customer Experience and relationships needs to be bought into by all C-levels but mainly driven from the bottom up, because the execs are so focused on other, near-term metrics and responsibilities.

    Thanks for your thoughts!
    Jay
    SocialSarcasm.com

  3. Bruce Temkin says:

    Pete: Great points.
    Jay: You’re right; size matters. Small companies are less likely to need/use a CCO. One of the things that a CCO is most valuable about doing is bridging the gaps between organizational silos. Smaller companies tend to have fewer of those gaps.

    On another note, I was asked on LinkedIn to describe the competencies I look for in a person who is taking on a CCO-type role. Here’ what I said:

    I look for a CxO to have the following competencies (in no particular order): Ability to gain respect and influence across the organization, strong process orientation, clear and compelling communicator, innate customer orientation, ability to connect CX to key business drivers, and the ability to work with a small staff. And, as I think about it, I’d also add that the person needs to be “thick-skinned.” Leading a company through a transformational journey is not easy, so a CCO will run into road blocks and obstacles like staunch defenders of the status-quo all along the way.

  4. Leanne Mitchell says:

    Bruce absolutely agree with your commentary. From my experience the role is exactly about the 8 key aspects you mention and it must be a top down board/CEO straetgic committment.

  5. Vijay Pandiarajan says:

    Bruce,

    Your comment about bridging organizational silos caught my attention, and I completely agree. Customer experience, especially in large organizations, is the sum total of carefully thought out goals institutionalized through clear processes. If CCOs are to bridge these silos, they must be able to influence and change these processes for end-to-end flows to the customer and not just within departments. In your experience, how have CCOs tackled the budgetary control that each department has for their individual operations?

    Also, since you’ve been following this role for a while, do you have a sense of the growth in number of CCO appointments over the past decade – say 2000, 2006 and 2012? Cross functional silo gaps have existed forever, but I expect it is becoming more important to close them in recent years.

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