The Emergence of the Chief Customer Officer

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In our last article we talked about the role of the Customer Service Manager, and its importance in creating and maintaining service strategies that pave the way for service excellence. In the past, the Customer Service Manager has typically reported to a Senior or C-level Marketing, Operations or Human Resources Executive, or a combination thereof. But the past decade or so, a new C-level role has emerged to specifically oversee the customer service department, including customer service managers and their teams, as well as drive strategy across the organization for the customer experience. 

What Is a CCO?

Chief Customer Officers may be known by many titles; however, according to the Chief Customer Officer Council, the CCO is properly defined as “an executive who provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.” Titles include Chief Customer Officer, Chief Client Officer; Chief Experience Officer; Executive Vice President of Customer Experience and so on.

 

A CCO is properly defined as an executive who provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability.

– Chief Customer Officer Council

Regardless of the title, the general role of the CCO is to serve alongside a company’s executive board, conceiving and building programs and systems to ensure and improve the customer experience. Examples of this are designing customer loyalty programs, creating systems for analyzing customer feedback or incorporating service excellence training  and certification programs for employees.

Because the CCO role is still so new, there is as yet no executive MBA program or even a Harvard Business Review treatise about becoming a CCO.  Customer Experience Pioneer & Leadership Advisor, Jeanne Bliss, who we had the pleasure of hosting in a recent webinar, and who shares content on our Guest Blog, was the Chief Customer Officer for Lands’ End, Microsoft, Mazda, Coldwell Banker and Allstate Corporations. Her ground-breaking books, Chief Customer Officer and Chief Customer Officer 2.0, were written as a field guide, based on her twenty five years’ experience in the role.

While not a requirement that the CCO be a board-level position, to be effective, the Chief Customer Officer Council advises that the CCO must be one of the senior-most executives of the company. Chief Customer Officers typically report directly to the CEO, although there are some exceptions.

A CCO’s Roadmap

The CCO’s main responsibilities – to streamline all customer initiatives throughout different departments and to bring about a new way of thinking and acting throughout the organization – are not small. While assigning these tasks to a Chief Marketing Officer could be successful, assigning these duties to a CCO sends the clearest signal about the importance of the customer service in the company. It also ensures that someone senior is looking at every decision exclusively through the lens of the customer. Not only that, the CCO will play a pivotal role making sure their company is customer focused.

A CCO’s role and duties will vary by sector and organization, but here are four main areas they will have to master.

Tell the Customer’s Story

The primary objective of the CCO is to move everyone in the C-suite toward a common understanding of what being customer-focused means. Effectively telling the customer’s story is essential for steering C-level executives towards this understanding. Instead of discussing customers as faceless statistics or categories, the CCO needs to bring customers, and their needs, to life by telling their story in extensive detail.

 

Build a Customer Community

Involving customers in a company’s creative process can unlock a whole new level of connection. Companies can also invite customers in their innovation by letting them test new prototypes and by building communities or forums in which customers help each other.  If planned and executed properly, this community approach will help a company not only increase its customer loyalty, it will bring in great new suggestions and solutions that would ultimately improve the customer experience.

Involve the Front Lines

Getting frontline workers passionate about every step of the customer journey requires a system for not only acknowledging what’s going well, but continually identifying any sources of dissatisfaction and then addressing the root causes. When frontline workers are positively engaged and dedicated to serving their customers, they are champions for a deeper, company-wide relationship with those customers. Customer feedback should be gathered and conveyed from the frontline, so that every new executive level initiative and strategy is centered on this feedback.

Use Data to Know the Customer and Intuit Their Needs

As successful companies are becoming increasingly customer-centric, the CCO must create and manage a system that unites all the different sources of customer data into a master view of every customer. Having an in-depth view of the customer, by measuring customer satisfaction at each touchpoint along the customer journey, will not only serve as a strong indicator of the customer experience, it will also have a predictive capacity. Close analysis of this data will help highlight and prevent any potential problems before they even occur. It will also help ideate new programs and experiences, in anticipation of customer needs.

Even in this digital age, where many service interactions are either outsourced or replaced by AI, the CCO will still remain an essential role. While the role may transform with the times and the nature of the service sector, its necessity will endure.

The dynamics that have given rise to the need for the CCO role – an ever-changing consumer expectation and the increasing complexity of product and service delivery channels – will continue to dictate service excellence innovation and improvement of the customer experience.



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