Seven reasons why customer experience managers will make great CEOs
With the Principality Building Society promoting its chief customer officer to CEO, we explore why today's CX managers could be the next generation of chief executive officers.
Last week it was announced that Principality Building Society would be appointing a new CEO - and stepping into the role will be the company's chief customer officer Julie-Ann Haines.
In a statement, Principality chairman, Laurie Adams, said: “During her time at Principality Building Society, she has played an important role in ensuring our Members have received outstanding customer experience, and especially during these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has played a key role in leading our transformation strategy and is the right person to ensure we continue to deliver long-term value and excellent service to both existing and future members."
It's arguably the first example (though do comment below if you know of another) of a head of customer experience being promoted to a chief executive role - though perhaps that isn't particularly surprising given the fact that chief customer officers and equivalents have only become significant in number in recent years.
And it raises the tantalising prospect that this kind of promotion could well become more commonplace in the future as customer-centricity and an 'outside-in' mindset are increasingly coveted by shareholders.
Let's take a look at some of the reasons why customer experience leaders will be key candidates for chief executive roles in the future.
1. They are visionary
Companies tend to confuse vision with strategy. Strategies tend to be designed to achieve certain business outputs and initiatives are defined to give immediate direction to the different line functions or departments. Inevitably that makes them inward directed and short-sighted. An overarching vision is a constant that shapes your strategy that tends to be adjusted over time. A compelling vision gives people a sense of purpose that is based on shared brand and cultural values. It tells everyone where the company is heading and helps people to put their daily job into a wider context that goes beyond simply completing their tasks.
A vision is an essential starting point for any CX programme. Without having a clear vision for the company there is no point taking the development of a CX programme any further. It will be sure to surface at a later stage and both confuse the people and delay the process. Therefore, many customer experience managers are adept at crafting compelling visions that can secure the buy-in and commitment of the wider organisation - making them the perfect candidate to take the next step up and craft and embed the holistic brand vision.
2. They are strategic
As MyCustomer revealed in its recent survey of customer experience leaders, building the organisation's CX strategy is the most common responsibility of a customer experience manager, with 91% of those we interviewed telling us that they had ownership of it. Therefore, having the skills to develop an organisation-wide strategy are clearly crucial for today's customer experience leaders - something that is a highly transferrable skill, and one that certainly puts them in the frame for the top job at businesses.
3. They have strong communication skills
When MetricsXM conducted analysis of job postings for customer experience managers to identify the skills most commonly cited as key requirements for the role, it found that excellent communication skills appeared most frequently. It is easy to understand why. As the leader of the organisation's customer experience programme they not only need to galvanise and engage their own team, but also inspire the entire organisation to commit to a culture of customer-centricity. This combination of persuasion and inspiration would be a hugely valuable attribute for CEOs needing to unite their organisations behind their vision.
4. They have good relationship-building skills
Customer experience programmes encompass the entire organisation at a cultural level, but CX managers need to foster particularly strong relationships with key stakeholders in the customer-facing departments - customer service, sales and marketing - as well as the IT department. This isn't always easy because it is common for organisations to be hamstrung by organisational and cultural silos. Therefore, breaking down the silos that prevent cross-department collaboration and the development of relationships is a key requirement for CX managers.
This awareness of organisational silos, and what is required to overcome them - operationally, technically and culturally - provides candidates with crucial insight into the business. And coupled with the strong relationships that have been fostered across the organisation, it is easy to see why CX managers would immediately possess an advantage over other candidates for the role of CEO.
5. They are customer-centric
The CEO and the leadership team often play a crucial role in setting the tone and ultimately determining whether an organisation is customer-centric or not. They need to manage the business in a way that demonstrates that it always puts customers first. If the CEO of a company doesn’t live up to the customer-centric vision by walking the talk then it is very unlikely that the whole company will become customer-focused. So, CEOs need to visibly believe in it (mindset) and also act accordingly for others to see (behaviour). For customer experience leaders who are steeped in customer-centricity, and who have been instrumental in creating the CX strategy and helping to foster a customer-focused culture, this is already second nature.
6. They are adaptable
It's safe to say that this year's events have emphasised how important it is for leaders to be adaptable. Indeed, even before these events it was often suggested that for leaders, adaptability is just as important as capability. In the MetricsXM study, adaptability once again featured highly on the list of requirements for CX leaders. Given how quickly business circumstances can change, and also how quickly customer preferences and behaviour can shift, customer experience leaders certainly have this quality in spades, and once again it tees them up nicely for the requirements of a CEO.
7. They understand the importance of employee experience
To deliver a great customer experience it is critical that employees are happy at work and motivated to make customers happy. It is unlikely for employees to engage with customers in a positive way if they do not feel engaged at work and enjoy doing their job. In other words, there is a strong correlation between employee engagement and customer engagement. Given the fact that the vast majority of employees around the world do not feel engaged at work it is clear that if a CX programme does not address the happiness and well-being of the employees, it will not be successful.
Having led the organisation's customer experience programme, and therefore having had an appreciation for the importance of employee engagement, CX managers would not only bring customer-centricity to the role of CEO, but also an understanding of the importance of the employee experience - something that would no doubt make them a popular candidate with the company's staff.
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Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.