Will 2013 be the year of the chief customer officer?

Will 2013 be the year of the chief customer officer?

MyCustomer.com learns about the different types of CCO, how they dovetail with the rest of the company, and why 2013 could be their breakthrough year.

It is two years since Forrester documented the rise of the chief customer officer, and despite growing numbers of CCOs and equivalent roles, particularly in the US, the position has yet to become commonplace. But is 2013 the year that the CCO gains true traction?
 
Also referred to as a variety of other titles including chief experience officer and VP of customer experience, the cross-departmental executive-level role is implemented as an antidote to traditional business models that have been more concerned with products and pricing models than with the customer experience.
 
And with experience emerging as an increasingly popular focal point for driving revenue and growth in 2013, the stage could be set for a shake-up of the corporate boardroom to accommodate the new role of chief customer officer.
 
As CCO of enterprise software company Thunderhead.com, Marchai Bruchey has first-hand experience of how the role can impact a business by taking views and messages from the market and communicating them throughout the company.
 
“It is a role that we’re starting to see crop up more and more,” she says. “And one of the catalysts for this is that it’s not just marketing’s job to acquire new customers, it is also marketing’s job to retain customers in conjunction with the rest of the business. There is not a silo where marketing owns acquisition and customer service owns retention. It requires a holistic view.”
 
Designed to sit across multiple departments, the chief customer officer is responsible for this holistic view.
 
Bruchey continues: “It is really important to look at the customer from across the organisation, because as a customer if I am calling my bank and have a conversation with a call centre agent after having just finished a web transaction, I would like that agent to know about this activity. If they know about all the conversations I have had then they will have a different dialogue with me than just having insight into one channel. Customer service doesn’t own the customer. The customer owns the company. And that means we touch them across it.”
 
Confusing customer experience
 
While the customer experience has been something that has finally been making its way up the corporate agenda in recent years, ownership of the experience has traditionally been shrouded in confusion. And Bruchey believes that businesses have had a tendency to confuse customer service with customer experience.
 
“Customer service is a discipline within every organisation that is responsible for handling customer issues and problems; customer experience is really about the customer from the beginning so that you don’t even get them into the service world,” she explains. “Therefore, customer experience should sit across all functional organisations within the company. It should feed the customer’s voice back into the organisation, for what should become new products or services.”
 
As a figure that that also has a seat at the company’s top table, the chief customer officer is a role designed to aid a shift from the traditional inside-out view of the world, to a much more outside-in approach.
 
“Too often organisations look at the world from the inside-out,” continues Bruchey. “Somebody within a business has a great idea for a product or service, but they never get the customer’s point of view – and ultimately, the customer is the person who is going to be using that product or service. So why not bring the customer’s voice into this from the very beginning? And that is why it is critical to have a CCO sat at that table.”
 
Influence, advocate and operational CCOs
 
While the role of CCO is still in its relative infancy, three distinct types of chief customer officer are already emerging, implemented according to the particular demands of an organisation.
 
  • The ‘influence’ CCO – sat on the executive team, these CCO’s have no staff and no budget reporting to them. Their job is to define what the customer experience strategy is and become the ‘champion’ for customer experience within the organisation, rallying the employees to be focused first and foremost on the customer.
  • The ‘advocate’ CCO – the same responsibilities as the ‘influence’ CCO in terms of responsibility for the customer experience definition and strategy, but they also have budgets for particular projects from time to time. For instance, if a voice of the customer project is being implemented, they may have a budget for it, although they may not have any operational responsibility for it.
  • The ‘operational’ CCO – not only do they have responsibility for the definition and strategy, and rallying the organisation, and all related projects, but they also have staff and budget.
 
And it is this last type of CCO that Thunderhead.com deploys. Explaining her role in more detail, Bruchey says: “I define what the customer experience is for the business. I look at the customer journey, looking at the world from the customer’s point of view. I’m the customer voice sitting at the executive table every week so that when we make business decisions I can say how it will impact the customer.
 
“I have the professional services organisation that reports into me. I have the customer support organisation that reports in. I have the customer programmes and operations team that reports to me. And I have a customer success management team. So that whole team is really operationally responsible for when a customer signs on the dotted line, how we onboard them, how we implement them, how we make them happy through that entire process and ultimately make them customers for life.”
 
While Bruchey has responsibility once a customer is on board with her company, as CCO she works closely with the marketing team, the sales team and the product team.
“Every one of those organisations touches the customer or prospective customer and my job as CCO is to give them insight on what it’s like for our customers to do business with us,” she continues. “Ultimately, they will be the ones that will enhance and improve the processes within the organisation that they own, but it is my job to ensure that they understand what the process is from a customer’s point of view and how to fundamentally make those changes.
 
“It is important that everybody works together. You don’t put a CCO in place and expect them to go and just make it all happen. We all have to pull together. I don’t have responsibility functionally for several organisations, but I have formed a governance council within the organisation that has key representatives from the CTO’s office, the CMO’s office, from HR, from finance, and right across the business. And we constantly meet and go through the core tenets of what we’re trying to achieve with regards to the experience. We have laid out a journey, and it won’t happen overnight – a customer experience programme takes anywhere from two to three years to fully implement, and that is to get everybody bought in, because there are always sceptics.”
 
Cultural challenges
 
Indeed, changing a company’s culture is the biggest task of all. “Fundamentally, creating a customer experience focused company is a lot about culture,” adds Bruchey. “It is about educating every employee in the business to understand why it is important to support the customer and it is also important to give employees the tools to be able to support that customer.”
 
As an emerging job title, businesses are unlikely to hire an existing CCO into the role. Bruchey’s own path to the position of chief customer officer comes via 15 years as a chief marketing officer in the CRM world, as well as experience as a chief operating officer, and experience managing services and support. And while the CCO can feasibly come from a background in many different departments, provided they have the appropriate skillset, marketing is emerging as a common point of origin for chief customer officers.
 
“A lot of the folks becoming CCOs are from the CMO ranks because they understand the customer,” suggests Bruchey. “They have done a lot of work on the front-end, usually acquiring these customers, so they know what the hot buttons are, so it is a natural evolution for forward-thinking CMOs.”
 
But not all CMOs will naturally be a good fit for the role, she adds. “There are risk-taking CMOs and status quo CMOs. If you’re a status quo CMO then you’re perfectly happy doing campaigns and acquiring new customers – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not the kind of CMO that is going to transform into a chief customer officer role very well. To move from the CMO role to the CCO role, I think you have to have some operational background and I think you have to look at the customer more holistically.”
 
For Thunderhead.com, the role of CCO is proving to be transformative. And as more and more case studies emerge detailing CCO success stories, so the position will attract more interest. In the two years since Forrester’s report, there has been steady growth. But 2013 could yet prove to be the break-out year for the chief customer officer.
 
“I’m expecting to see a lot more implementations,” says Bruchey. “The interest is really there. I was recently in Miami at a customer experience forum meeting and there was a room full of CCOs and VPs of customer experience, and VPs of customer insight. There are a number of different titles around this, but it is all really at the centre of what the customer is doing.
 
“I was in Australia and in Singapore and the events were widely attended by CCOs. The banks and the insurance industry seem to be leading the pack, and the telcos also are really understanding the potential because in an industry such as that, where they have the same kinds of plans and offers, service is a core differentiator. And as an industry that reports high customer churn, customer retention is a big issue.”
 
She concludes: “I have already seen in the US most of the large telcos implementing chief loyalty officers and chief customer officers and so on. And I think we’ll see 2013 really adding to that.”

Comments

Just musing, since I have no direct experience (pardon the pun) with CCO roles, but have pondered the issue for a few years.

It is my believe that this role can only be successful if one or both of the following conditions holds:

  • The CCO has higher authority than the other CxO's. For example CEO being Chief Experience Officer, or EVP of Customer Experience in an environment where all other reports to CEO are VP's.
  • Every department has customer experience incentives to force them to cooperate with the CCO and his/her team.
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