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The decline of marketing should increase CX's c-suite focus - so why isn't it?


In this abridged extract from his new book (which you can download for free here), Jack Springman examines how the decline of marketing has created a huge opportunity for customer experience to become a c-suite focus - and why this opportunity may not be taken. 

5th Sep 2022

The status of marketing is perilous, notably its standing with CEOs is poor.

According to the Fournaise Group, “we tracked that 80% of today's CEOs admit that they do not really trust and are not very impressed by the work done by their marketers – while by comparison, 95% of those same CEOs do trust and value the opinions and work of CFO and CIOs.”

One consequence is that the tenure of CMOs is the shortest of any c-suite executive. According to a 2017 HBR article by Kimberly Whitler and Neil Morgan, analysis by the headhunters Korn Ferry, found that CMOs stay in office for 4.1 years on average; CIOs average 4.3 years; CHROs 5.0 years; CFOs, 5.1 years; while CEOs do best of all averaging 8.0 years. The authors go on to say, “our own research indicates that churn rates may be even worse: We found that 57% of CMOs have been in their position three years or less.”

But most damning of all is the paucity of CMOs that sit on company boards. Research undertaken in 2019 by another group of headhunters, Spencer Stuart, identified only 26 board seats at Fortune 1000 companies being currently occupied by marketing leaders. Given each board will typically have ten or more board members, that is a minute percentage for an activity that should be driving company growth.

So what can be done about it? Already there is a bit of a rebound towards prioritising brand-building over performance marketing – Airbnb being an example that has been gleefully cited by the branding community. And as the Cannes Lion awards show, advertising agencies are latching onto brand purpose as a way to build brand equity. The shame is that marketing isn’t rebounding to focus on customer utility and value. That is still a viable and profitable strategy if marketers would embrace it.

Marketing may not control some of the key levers of creating value for customers, with products owned by the CPO rather than CMO and services managed by digital teams, but it can still create value by providing the right information at the right time via the right channel to customers.

This is marketing-as-a-service, where marketers redefine their role as helping customers achieve their desired outcome and complete their jobs-to-be done (JTBDs). Many of these jobs are information related, so they are in the sweet spot for marketing to support, and they cover the whole customer experience lifecycle – helping customers identify that they have a need, helping customers specify what it is they actually need, helping customers identify the options that they have, helping customers select between these options, helping them transact, helping them with installation and initial use, helping them with support and maintenance, helping them identify upgrades that would be beneficial and finally helping them with end-of-life activities such as disposal.

All this would have a major impact on the key customer metrics – acquisition, retention, cross- and upselling, and profitability. These all add up to faster growth – the economic imperative of the 1960-1990 customer utility era. But I don’t see it happening as creating value for customers is so far off the marketing radar these days. Senior marketers only think in terms of brand marketing and performance marketing – and maybe tech-led marketing in the future. The good news for customer experience (CX) professionals is that this creates a massive hole which CX can fill.

All businesses want to grow and you cannot grow unless you have a clear strategy for creating value for customers so as to create value for the business. This is what CX strategy should be all about.

But the chances of CX practitioners establishing sufficient credibility to be given such a broad responsibility is minimal due to self-inflicted harms - though this can be changed.

This lack of credibility stems from how CX professionals talk about customer experience – unquestioning adherence to ideals that have been laid out by industry gurus and ignoring business context in the process; a desire to emulate exemplars whether they are relevant comparators or not; a focus on operational issues rather than strategic ones; the elevation of ‘best practices’ over appropriate practices; a desire to delight customers with amazing service and frictionless experiences whether that is strategically valuable or not; and a focus on metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT), net promoter scores (NPS) or customer effort scores (CES) rather than the commercial metrics that matter to senior management.

For a start, relatively few businesses have chief customer officers (CCO). The CCO role is not new, but there has been renewed excitement in the CX trade press recently, suggesting the role is coming back. The problem is that the numbers remain small.

At the same time some companies are getting rid of the role. According to Neil Davey at MyCustomer: “Bloomin’ Brands Inc., parent company of restaurant chains such as Outback Steakhouse, announced last month that it is abolishing the role of chief customer officer, with the chief marketing officer taking control of customer strategy.”

More concerning for ambitious CX professionals is that these new CCOs have not come up through a classic customer experience career path. Manu Steijaert, the recently appointed CCO at McDonald’s, had a few stints in field services but prior to his elevation, the bulk of his experience was in operational roles, along with time as managing director of McDonald’s in the Netherlands. It is a similar story with Massimo Baratto, chief consumer officer at Under Armour. His background includes being a CMO and some managing director roles before becoming CCO. The same applies to Tracey Brown, CCO at Walgreens, and Dr Markus Kleimann, chief experience officer at Volkswagen. What these people do have in common is a background in strategic decision-making and none of them talk about having any customer experience certification on their LinkedIn profiles. Having a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) qualification won’t help you become a CCO (and it may even be a hindrance).

Not surprisingly given the paucity of CCOs, the number that become CEOs is minimal.

The typical remit of a CCO covers marketing, sales and service. According to Camille Nicita, managing director North America at Gongos, "The CCO fosters a customer-centric ecosystem that includes aligning the organisation internally to succeed with an authentic customer-centric presence." While CX experts like Nicita extol the importance of a CCO from a philosophical point of view, politically the role is a difficult one as it steps on the toes of powerful people.

The chances of CX practitioners establishing sufficient credibility to be given such a broad responsibility is minimal due to self-inflicted harms - though this can be changed.

The breadth of the CCO role means it impinges more on the strategic decision-making responsibilities of the CEO than narrower c-suite roles. At the same time, it also acts as a blocker to influential underlings who control the majority of customerfacing expenditure – the CMO in business-to-consumer (B2C) sectors and chief sales officer (CSO) in business-to-business (B2B) industries. These roles are critical to commercial success – as such, the people in them want to report to the CEO directly rather than through an intermediary. If they are blocked by a CCO, they will try to oust them. And if they manage to circumvent them, then the CCO becomes little more than a ceremonial figure.

So no surprise that businesses like Bloomin’ Brands are getting rid of the CCO role. Also by focusing on marketing, sales and service and not including oversight of the product organisation, one of the most important factors as far as customers are concerned is excluded from the CCO’s responsibilities. (Given the importance of product interactions, arguably responsibility for the end-to-end customer experience should be part of the chief product & service officer’s role).

Without a CCO in charge, leadership of customer experience is downgraded to a ‘head of’ position, with limited accountability and responsibility. This was confirmed by research undertaken by MyCustomer for Confirmit.

This found that less than 40% of customer experience leaders reported directly to the CEO. More damningly, the research discovered that “CSAT and NPS are commonly used to gauge CX programme success by CX leaders – but few measure its business value with financial metrics.” A not surprising consequence was that only 9% of CX leaders saw Return on Investment (ROI) as a priority in the coming 18 months.

The decline in the influence of marketing has created a vacuum which customer experience can fill if CX professionals show they have the strategic and commercial smarts to make the most of the opportunity.

NPS is an indirect measure of success. What matters to shareholders is ROI and any executive with aspirations to be CEO needs to prove they can deliver on that front. So if CX leads are not responsible for delivering commercial results, the chances of their being promoted to the c-suite are slim. Lack of commercial responsibility is down to lack of trust – customer experience is not taken seriously as a business discipline (for the reasons outline below). And changing that requires CX professionals to drastically enhance their skills beyond what current training and on-the-job working delivers. Then transform the perception that senior executives have of them by showing they can think strategically rather than parrot the traditional fallacies.

There was a fashion a few years ago for customer experience experts to write CX guides for CEOs. As valuable as these guides may have been, even more valuable would have been a guide for CX practitioners to what CEOs want – their priorities, what keeps them awake at night and what captures their attention. But as most CEOs have more important things to do, such a book has yet to written.

The irony is that while empathy towards external customers is universally lauded in the CX world, empathy towards internal customers – in the form of those in the c-suite and their strategic priorities – receives next to no attention. The CX guides for CEOs seek to educate and inform them as to why customer experience is a key component of business success. At the same time, they presume to state what good CX looks like, without reference to a business’s specific context – its industry, market position, intended differentiation, scale and the level of resources the business can invest in customer experience. Most writing on CX strategy glosses over such context when it should be the most critical consideration.

At this point you may be thinking – there is no way that customer experience team will be given such broad responsibility in my organisation. Possibly, but the decline in the influence of marketing has created a vacuum which customer experience can fill if CX professionals show they have the strategic and commercial smarts to make the most of the opportunity. The time for CX leaders with ambition to grab this opportunity is now.

I use the term ambition deliberately. Doubtless there are many people in the CX tribe who are happy with the way things are – delivering change in contact centres, mapping journeys to improve digital experiences and improving service levels across the board. But if your career ambitions are bigger than that and you want to be part of a new community – let’s call it the #CXProToCEO tribe – then a completely new way of thinking is required.

Paying heed to the standard books, articles and webinars is more likely to hold you back than help you achieve your goals and aspirations.

In its rush to professionalism, the CX industry has created a one-size-fits-all approach to customer experience strategy... But effective CX strategy development requires a willingness to be different.

At the heart of this problem is the religious adherence to the CX monoculture that is fostered by publications, social media pronouncements and training programmes.

Over the past twenty years, the customer experience profession has developed and matured. For the most part these developments have been positive with advances in tools (such as journey mapping) and professional standards. But in its rush to professionalism, the CX industry has created a one-size-fits-all approach to customer experience strategy. If you follow CX-related hashtags on Twitter or LinkedIn, the same themes crop up again and again - delighting customers by delivering amazing service, frictionless experiences and being customer-centric.

Effective CX strategy development requires a willingness to be different – listening to all the advice that is on offer but not feeling pressured into following others because the CX filter bubble asserts it is the right thing to do. So while these social media pronouncements are grounded in years of CX experience and often display virtuoso insight, they ignore context and the basics of good strategy development. As a result they are unlikely to be appropriate and may even be dangerous.

Adrian Swinscoe, author of Punk CX, likens the customer experience profession of today to the 1970s rock scene. The early 1970s saw the rise of progressive or ‘prog’ rock which Swinscoe describes as “overly technical, too elaborate and complicated, inwardly focused, a little exclusive and in danger of disappearing up its own a***”.

Extended guitar solos were one of the features of prog rock as artists sought to outdo each other with displays of their virtuosity. But for the most part they ended up all sounding just the same. Ultimately they were simply variations around a common theme with what made them similar – the prog rock ethos – a far more powerful force than the technical distinctions that made each one slightly different.

The parallel that Swinscoe draws with the CX industry is very apt. Many of the musings of CX experts on social media are designed to be distinctive – for obvious reasons – but because they are all based on the same set of assumptions, they end up all sounding the same. If you share the same core beliefs your ability to be radically different in what you say is completely curtailed.

In the next extract, Jack will outline the six reasons why standard CX thinking will hold you back if you are trying to make customer experience a c-suite priority and elevate yourself accordingly.

Download 'The Final Rant: Making Customer Experience a C-Suite priority' in its entirety here


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