So more and more companies are starting to notice that Customer Experience might be the way forward to leap over the competition and cement their reputations with their customer base as a place worth spending their hard earned money.

(A discussion for another time perhaps – but why has it taken companies this long to figure this particular “strategy” out – (to paraphrase a popular Peter Drucker quote) your business exists to serve your customers and solely because of your customers  – if you aren’t doing it, what are you doing exactly?  But I digress…)

Next comes the internal dilemma within those very same companies – “How do we get these efforts off the ground and make sure they are a success?  Who leads the effort?  How do we start the ball rolling?

Should it be Marketing (CMO) – the classic “first option” in the go to book on messaging customer (but, as in most classic marketing setups, they are not built to properly interact with them – nor do marketing personnel have the experience and/or exposure to an entire business to understand all the pieces involved in a comprehensive CX plan); The IT department (CIO) — given the on-going and growing importance and impact of technology in our day-to-day lives; Operations (COO)– since they are the de facto leaders of gathering feedback and implementing change across the organisation?”; Corporate Strategy? (CSO) Another department?

Well, those are all valid options to be fair – just not the best ones.  There is only one entity that can make sure Customer Experience is properly thought out, implemented and executed to the potential best outcomes for a company.

It is the CEO.

They are the one who has to gather all the entities across the scope of an organisation, get them agree to a comprehensive plan that involves the entire extent of the company (including pulling talent across departments and setting objectives that require the concentrated efforts of all); and then makes sure that everyone goes out and properly executes on that plan.  They also have to be the one to help monitor the situation and make on-the-fly adjustments to optimise and benefit the CX, the customer and the company.  They have to provide the “political air cover” to allow the best interests of the customer to remain the top priority, rather than the personal interests of the employees to maximise their exposure or year-end bonus.

I discussed this at somewhat of a length in a keynote address on Customer Experience I did last year.  Over a period of a couple of months, looking at the entire list of Fortune 500 companies – and those who did Customer Experience “well” (of which there were very few…. As in a “single digit number few”) the CEO plays/played a key determining factor in whether the CX program was an on-going, long-term success.  (If you want the list I’ve come up with, give me a shout and we can discuss it and what criteria I used to determine the final selections.)

The reason the CEO is important, I can best describe using what I call the “family analogy.”  With this particular analogy, the CEO is the head of the household (Dad/Mom – for the rest of the scenario we’ll refer to them as “HoH” as a gender-neutral solution) – the various departments across the scope of the company are the “children.”

HoH has a responsibility to make sure that their “children” behave in a manner that is proper.  HoH doles out the allowance (budgets), settles disputes, makes the rules, negotiates and solves all the disputes, resolves the issues that are brought to the forefront – all the things a parent should be doing.

In something where there is both radical and on-going change needed (as in aligned with a true Customer Experience program often requires), the CEO is the one who is placed to make those changes without them getting weighed down in committees, misaligned so that they meet certain department’s agendas rather than the needs of the customer.

I’ve heard the excuse from a CEO recently of “I don’t have time to do this type of task – I have to run the company.”  But once again, I’m forced to ask if you aren’t running the company to focus on your customers – and therefore, your reason for being at said company – what are you doing exactly?”

Another problem solved by making the CEO the ultimate driver of customer experience is that is solves the departmental challenge problem of who’s leading customer experience — and getting over the self-imposed blockages that come with that problem.

This is best illustrated with a story of a person I’ve been having conversations with over the past 18 months since he was appointed in his global CX role.  Within his own organisation, on the org chart, he is listed as part of the “Operations” department.

Having a number of conversations across the global organisation over the past two-plus years (as I have been lucky enough to be involved and introduced to the company as a C-suite level), I have had multiple people in other parts of the company openly admit to me that they don’t listen to the person, they don’t provide needed input to this person, and don’t feel compelled to add their two cents to his feedback loop to help the company in an overall CX sense from that perspective —  “because they happen to work in the departments of “Marketing/Product/HR/etc – and that person is Operations.  They don’t know the challenges that come in my particular department and we compete against each other for budgets; and we need project outcomes that meet our needs, not Operations.”

Compounded to this problem is that the person assigned to the global CX role most likely has no idea these types of issues are a problem on a company-wide basis – and he doesn’t have the placement in the company to bring it up to the CEO (although he says he does…but he doesn’t actually.)

This is just one example – but one that echoes across multiple companies.  The example can be best illustrated in this cartoon on organisational charts – notice how the one true great CX company is organised (Amazon — apparently even the best jokes have a ring of truth to them.) 

That is what is needed in modern organisations – at least in terms of Customer Experience.  The CEO must be the ultimate decision maker to make the decisions that best benefit both the company and its reason for existence – the customer.

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