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cx leaders obsolete

Should CX leaders be aiming to make their role obsolete?


A recent article in the Wall Street Journal casts doubt on the future of customer experience leaders, claiming that heads of CX are actively working to phase their role out. So should this be the goal of CX leaders?

2nd Jul 2021
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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal examined the growth in the number of customer experience leaders and debated how long these roles would exist. 

Drawing on Gartner research, it highlighted that the number of organisations surveyed that employed a chief experience officer, chief customer officer or an equivalent, had increased from 61% in 2017 to 90% in 2019. 

But despite this growth, the article casts doubt on the longevity of the role. 

“The title of chief experience officer is becoming ubiquitous at big companies, but if some of the executives holding it have their way, they will be their organization’s first and last CXO,” writes WSJ reporter Katie Deighton. “That is because they want their focus on keeping customers happy to seep into all levels and departments of the company, essentially putting themselves out of a job.”

To add credence to this, Best Buy Co chief customer officer and executive vice president Allison Peterson is quoted as saying: “My goal is to create an environment where we are so obsessed over the customer that a separate person or team doing it doesn’t need to exist.”

Elsewhere it is noted that when Mastercard’s chief experience officer left to join another company, the financial services firm opted to shift duties such as user experience and customer service under the watch of its chief innovation officer, rather than hiring a direct replacement - effectively phasing out the role of chief experience officer. 

At this point it draws a parallel with the role of chief digital officer, a position that itself experienced rapid growth until some five years ago when it fell out of favour “as other parts of the leadership team steadily picked up digital responsibilities”.

Cloud cuckoo land?

So could this be the fate of the CX leader? And indeed, should CX leaders aspire to make their role obsolete as Best Buy’s Peterson suggests? Of the customer experience professionals we spoke with, all could understand the aspiration - but none envisaged it happening any time soon... if at all.

Iain O’Connor, senior manager, customer experience & insight at Aegon, says: "I agree wholeheartedly that the job of a CX leader is to ensure that keeping customers happy becomes part of company culture. It's critical that all departments become customer focussed for a CX strategy to succeed and the role of the CX leader (and team) is to drive that change and ensure the customer is receiving a first class experience every time. I disagree however that we can ever reach a level of CX maturity that would make the CX leader role redundant. There are two reasons for this. 

"The first is that reaching this level of CX maturity is extremely difficult and any company getting to that point risks becoming complacent and falling behind the competition. Unless 100% of your customers are consistently happy then there is work to do.  Secondly, if the pandemic has taught us anything, its that we need to be prepared for constant change. Customer expectations are changing all the time driven by advancements in technology, in society and in the way we live our lives. A good CX leader will be obsessed about delivering today but should also be planning for the next challenge and be thinking about how CX delivery can be improved and refined to stay ahead of customer expectations and ahead of the competition." 

"It's a laudable ambition, but cloud cuckoo land, and dare I say it, either a little bit arrogant, or a little bit naive," adds Keith Gait, leader at The Customer Experience Foundation, and former customer services director at Stagecoach Bus.  

"It assumes that CX has an end point, which you can reach and then stop. That's just not the case. Customers' needs wants and emotions are constantly evolving, the technology is either leading and driving that, or doing its best to keep up, and its an ever- changing picture. The role of the CXO is to be at the forefront of this, and interpreting and understanding how this can all be  deployed back into the business to further deliver for customers. Someone always has to be doing that, and lead the thinking, design and delivery, so what are you going to call them?

"It also assumes customers have the same lofty view of your CX as you do yourself, and we know from many pieces of research that customers simply don't see the service improving in the way many businesses think they are. And thats before we get onto the role the CXO should be performing about driving EX and the internal cultures within the organisations...

"The part I do agree with is about developing future leaders. The very best executives will continually be looking to develop the next generation and a coaching style of leadership is recognised by many now as a hugley valuable trait to have."

Far away from utopia

"I think Allison Peterson’s point about being customer obsessed is absolutely spot on but I disagree that the aspiration should be to make a senior customer experience role obsolete," says Charlotte Dunsterville, chief consumer officer at Sure. "I would suggest that any customer experience role evolves along with current thinking and practice and as one element of customer experience becomes embedded in the fabric of a business, there is plenty more up ahead to focus on. 

"I have experienced this personally at Sure where I joined as customer experience director with a remit to improve the experience operationally, became chief customer officer with a more strategic focus on long term development of the customer experience and last year took on a larger role as chief consumer officer responsible for both commercial performance and customer experience.

"My career journey perfectly reflects the development of customer experience in the wider market where it started as a more operational discipline and now routinely includes looking at the ROI of customer improvement programmes, using customer insight intelligently to design better experiences and judging both the revenue and customer impact of key initiatives."

Ricardo Saltz Gulko, founder of The European Customer Experience Organization, and managing director of Eglobalis, adds: "Even though I think it's a great aspiration, I can't foresee a scenario where great experiences just happen by default - even if a company has a great culture and a customer-centric mindset and strategy.

"Companies and regions are currently at different levels of maturity in customer experience. Great experiences occur when design meets extraordinary orchestration and excellent execution. We are still far away from this utopia where the position will become obsolete. We all have a lot of work to do." 
Stacy Sherman. director of customer experience at Schindler Elevator Corporation and founder of DoingCXRight concludes: "The Wall Street Journal article suggests that a CXO leader may become obsolete - we are just getting started from my perspective.
"When I look at job titles across different industries, it’s clear that a trend of CXO positions is rising and paving the way for change management. That’s because a CXO has unique skills and training to guide a company's direction and investments (tools, resources) that are in the best interest of customers. Likewise, a CXO professional knows how to influence people to feel that they have a customer experience job, even when they don’t interact directly with customers. Without such a culture, loyalty goals can’t be achieved.
"Like any other executive position, a CXO can’t live on an island alone. Collaboration and partnerships with every department is essential for positive changes to happen. CX needs to be methodical, intentional, consistent, and a shared passion; same holds true for EX (employee experiences). You can’t have CX without great EX.
"So, will the CXO role become obsolete? I believe the answer is maybe when my kids have kids. We have a long way to go as technology advances and dehumanises experiences. A CXO ensures that the Internet of Things (IOT), artificial intelligence (AI), and other ways of doing business enhance customer experiences, and not supersedes actions like sending a personalised handwritten letter. That’s irreplaceable.
"For those who have a goal to become a CXO or in the job now, I give you a standing ovation because it’s not an easy career and requires a “high level of effort.” There’s a lot of obstacles, yet it’s a leadership role that is so important not just for business but also for the greater good."
What are your thoughts - should CX leaders aspire to obsolescence? And could it happen at most organisations in the foreseeable future?

Replies (4)

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By michael cooper
05th Jul 2021 23:43

It should never happen, if the organisation wants to succeed. Technologies constantly evolve, as do consumer behaviours, and their needs. So, experience management is a continuous process of adapting and understanding then using the science (and it IS a science). Who knows what lies beyond this decade of exponential technological progress (in AI, IoT, AR and VR, Deep learning, and more) and then the shifting behaviours of new consumers in dealing with them, and their lifestyle changes? And as the true CX leader is an 'agent' with just enough knowledge to knit together the disciplines of behavioural science, data, design, sentiment, psychology, tech, branding and more, and the people skills to work across the org, who else can that be other than the CX leader? A true CX expert knows what they don't know (as do all true leaders), but that's hopefully less than a domain expert who will 'lean into' their career domain with bias. And, in my opinion, that's why many CX 'experts' today are failing when it should be a big picture, enabling, relationship, fact based, role.

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Replying to michael cooper:
Dr. Graham Hill
By Dr. Graham Hill
08th Jul 2021 14:10

Hi Michael
Few Chief Experience Officers have the authority, resources or influence to make a difference to the customer experience. It is a ceremonial job title.
Best regards, Graham

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Replying to GrahamHill:
By michael cooper
21st Jul 2021 00:04

Hi Graham
I agree few have the authority and influence. Perhaps I've been lucky - always reporting to the CEO and always having a place at the CXO table to challenge, influence, demonstrate etc. If I walked in to be told I'm reporting to a 'silo' XO I would walk away. It won't work. So it shouldn't be ceremonial. Who else other than the CEO (who wont have the time and timespan for any detail) can take the longtitudinal view across the org?

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Replying to michael cooper:
Dr. Graham Hill
By Dr. Graham Hill
21st Jul 2021 08:32

Hi Michael
I think you have been very lucky in that you have reported to the CEO. Although facilitating all the different aspects of the customer experience is logically a job for a C-suite executive with matching responsibility and authority, the customer experience touches so many different parts of the organisation that no executive has responsibility for all the parts. Other than the CEO. And the CEO has too many other, arguably more important responsibilities to devote all their time to just the customer experience. We are left with the far from ideal state that most CXOs have neither the responsibility nor the authority to manage the key drivers of customer experience.
Only when and if CX can unequivocably demonstrate how it drives shareholder value will this change. As yet it has struggled to do so.
Consider yourself to have been lucky so far.
Best regards, Graham

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