The Rise of the Chief Customer Officer – Oh wait!

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Customer Experience (CX) is reaching peak “buzzword” status amongst large global companies (“finally” or “once again” one is left to wonder at this point.)  These are companies who are apparently just tuning into the possibilities that making a positive effort in improving the experience of the customer is a sure fire hit – both for the customer and the company — in a multitude of positive ways for both parties.

(For the time being, let’s ignore previous attempts at creating the buzz around the topic — HBR talking about the “Rise of the Chief Customer Officer” in 2011, and Forbes on the same topic in 2014 as two recent examples.  Why get in the way of a good narrative – particularly when, in retrospect, it wasn’t true at that point in time either.  Of course, it remains to be seen if it takes hold in the current era – but not for lack of trying by publishers of books and current business periodicals.)

The Roadblock to true Customer Experience Success

The narrative continues to say that to drive that change effectively, companies need to appoint a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) – someone who sits at the right hand of the CEO and gives direct advice on how to orientate the company so that all “silos” are aligned with the needs of the customer – and not solely allied to the particular needs of the silo (and, by extension, its leaders.)

This train of thought is no doubt true, valid and absolutely and completely necessary – although the CEO must be the main driver of customer experience to succeed, they also have other responsibilities to the company and its Board of Directors on a day-to-day basis.  Because of these accountabilities, they need to task someone to oversee the vision and get both buy-in across the company, as well as an experienced hand at managing all the changes that are required to become more “customer-centric” – particularly in a company that already has classic corporate structure in place – which in itself will necessitate drastic overhauls in form and function.  This is the ultimate role of the Chief Customer Officer – to make the prospective vision a firm reality.

One catastrophic error in the current methodology of thought is that Customer Experience is constantly viewed as a subset of an existing business silo in the corporate structure.  In a majority of companies, it seems to be a “marketing function” (although in others it might be “Operations”, “Sales” or another area.)  There is a litany of serious issues associated with that type of specific link and/or continued tie-in to just one silo – some of which I’ve touched on before in this post.  This can be seen in the current job listings for any Customer Experience-focused positions – you’ll no doubt report to someone in marketing, sales or operations departments – not the CEO (but more on this particular subject in a bit…)

How does a prospective CCO become an effective CCO?

The one thing that definitely has not caught up to current business needs is the clarification as to where the CCOs are emerging from when they are appointed to their positions, and how they can effectively continue to develop their skills while in the role to meet the on-going and evolving needs of both the company and its customers.

A truly effective CCO is like gold dust – their value to the company is almost immeasurable as the skill set required to be a truly valuable CCO is both diverse and varied – and very difficult to obtain – particularly within the constructs of a global Fortune 500 company. I may have touched on this subject before – but it has been awhile, so I thought I’d revisit it.

Given that a CCO requires a depth of knowledge on every aspect of a customer and the continued evolution of their needs, desires and requirements (sometimes classified as “the customer journey”); and that the CEO has to be fully invested in a customer experience program for it to work, the CCO has to morph into a type of pseudo-deputy CEO of the company.  To be fair, an effective CCO are probably tapped more into the day-to-day pulse of the company, its employees, its customers, and reaching their customer experience goals than the CEO can be expected to be.

The CCO have to be able both understand and work with all divisions and people within the company, speak with terminology that each group can relate to (there is a lot of “translation” to be accomplished when floating a central core idea to a group of engineers then onto product developers to finance teams to legal to marketing to operations to HR, etc.)  and devise a plan that reaches a level of compromise that all parties can agree to going forward.

Once that herculean effort is done, the CCO has to then gather all the relevant needs of the company, put them through the spectrum of the customer and their desires – and then devise a comprehensive plan that takes into account satisfying those multitude of requirements with clear goals and checkpoints along the way to measure both effectiveness; and adapt the parts of the CX plan that need a tweak or two along the way to have the most long-term success.

All this while making it realistic and simple enough for all that it won’t be held to ransom by internal stakeholders who are more concerned with losing budget and/or perceived “power” within the constructs of the organisation – and then in turn, those disaffected parties devoting extra determination to derail the customer-focused efforts (also commonly known as “internal firefighting” – a tactic that can easily bring down the most of innocuous projects in a company.)

There are a number of tomes devoted to acquiring the basics of what is needed to be an effective CCO (myself, I would recommend Jeanne Bliss’ series of books as a good starting point as they do an excellent job on covering not only the basics, but also how to overcome some of the internal issues that I mentioned.)

The Role of Digital in being an effective CCO – no, wait, come back!

The one obvious missing factor in this CCO effectiveness planning process is the looming digital piece.  Yes, you’ve heard people go on and on about the prominence and relevance of digital within the context of a global organisation – probably to the point that you’ve tuned out when people start going on about the importance of the subject at hand.

And, of course, you’ll hear digital “experts” go on about “this and that around the significance of digital”, and how the current business world revolves and needs to revolve around the offerings of the digital spectrum– both now and increasingly in the future, etc.

Of course digital is a highly important channel for all businesses given that it is now the main form of communication between not only companies and their customers (which would be covered by the marketing silo of course); but customers and the company (covered by operations silo – who run call centres, online feedback – ie. “live chat”, keep databases of records, etc.); and most importantly, the customer with other customers (or potential new customers) – without the interference or input of the company at all (no input in the current prototypical corporate construct silo structure – except maybe the “internal social media team.”)

The “digital roadblock” in this part of the equation is not only trying to determine who is an “expert” (and of course, how they define themselves as such – which in itself is a sketchy proposition with all the “digital experts” out there) – but the scope of what “digital” is, and how one applies it to a specific organisation – both now and going forward.

Classic organisational structure once again remains another major obstruction – if a company is “progressive” enough to have a Chief Digital Officer (CDO), they probably once again reside in one of the main silos found in a Fortune 500 company – be it IT/Technology, Marketing or Operations – and limited to that scope of influence – either intentionally or not.

And the term “digital” in itself creates confusion (be it multiple definitions of what can be considered digital – not limited to established areas of “digital marketing”, “digital automation of new and/or existing business processes”, “building databases and providing insights through “Big Data” programs”, mobile strategy, social media, “The Cloud”, “digital transformation”, etc.)

Each of those departments has different prime directives and business needs to be met – often some of them are diametrically opposed to the needs of other departments – therefore creating further conflict resolution to overcome. (ed note: there is another post in me devoted solely to this topic I’m sure – now just need to find time to add it to the list and write it coherently.)

The Pool of Qualified CCO candidates is tiny given the current needs

Now taking the requirements of the role of the traditional CCO; and cross referencing it with the growing importance in meeting the needs and requirements of “digital” within an organisation (both current and on-going as the technology and business processes develop and mature) takes an almost impossible Venn Diagram to construct; and makes those suitable for the role draw from an infinitesimal small pool of people who are properly qualified for the role from inception.

If you do a bit of research on the topic, you’ll no doubt hear about CCXP certification in the context of Customer Experience – and I’m not sure that even the requirements to pass that organisation’s certification exam fully meet the requirements to do the CCO position effectively.  It may be a good starting point and foundation – and suited to those who are at the beginning of the learning curve rather than those with years of battle-tested experience in the field.

In search for a qualified Chief Customer Officer

So how do you find a job as a CCO then?  I posed the same question on LinkedIn two-plus years ago in Customer Experience-focused groups – and got vague answers with no definitive conclusions other than you had to be a company and get appointed into the role – mainly by talking your way into it apparently.

Similar to my posting two years ago, currently there are no job listings on LinkedIn for either job title of “Chief Customer Officer” or “Chief Experience Officer” – absolutely none!  That in itself is astounding – if companies aren’t looking for candidates to fill the role, how are they setting the bar to meet the requirements for the CCO role?

Doing further research, there are very vague mentions of a “Chief Experience Officer” hired through one of the big global recruitment firms – but even in the description of the position by the recruitment firm, it mentions that the person who was hired to fill the role has had a limited impact on the organisation within their first few months.

I asked a few well-connected and highly networked contacts over the past 24 hours about their experiences with new CCOs – and they have mentioned that they have known a couple of people shifted internally from other positions in the company to a new CCO role (including former associates in sales, marketing and operational roles) – and it was an outright disaster.

So we seem to find ourselves in a bit of a conundrum again – everyone can pretty much agree that a vast improvement in Customer Experience is something that every company needs – but there is a distinct lack of qualified candidates, and an almost non-existent experienced pool to draw from for companies looking to hire someone to jump start the process; along with the continued error in organisational structure that in effect limits both the scope and value of the person tasked with being the driver of the initiative.

Where do we go from here then? 

One would think that companies would have to start by not only paying lip service to the talk of need for good Customer Experience (and there are some worthy companies out there who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk in regards to CX – stop me if you’ve heard the list before – Amazon, Costco, Apple, Home Depot, Nike, USAA, SAP, Oracle, etc.); but also start recruiting qualified and serious candidates for the role from an external viewpoint, and give the role its proper placement in the context of the organisation so that the “Voice of the Customer” is not only heard, but acted upon in the daily actions of the company.  It seems there is still a bit of work to be done before the “Age of the Chief Customer Officer” really takes flight.   What do you think?

 

 

Thank you for reading this blog post, I hope you found it interesting, thought-provoking and even entertaining.  I’d love to hear what you think so please feel free to add your comments, suggestions or other ideas below.  You can find more content like this at www.ccoglobal.com/blog.

I’m Dan Collins, founder and CEO of CCO Global — I’ve been working in the “digital” sphere on a global level for a number of Fortune 500 companies for 25+ years (even before browsers debuted); and numerous aspects of the Customer Experience spectrum globally for the past 20+ years.

If you’ve any questions about improving customer experience, digital efficiency or CX organisational effectiveness, please get in touch.  I can be reached on +44 (0) 7799 803 195; email at cco@ccoglobal.com and the company twitter feed at www.twitter.com/CCOGlobal.

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