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Why there are two breeds of customer experience leader battling for supremacy


MyCustomer research findings reveal a clear divide between CX professionals that operate under the management of the marketing department, and those that report directly to the CEO. 

17th Apr 2020
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When MyCustomer conducted a research study into customer experience leadership late last year, it was designed to surface insights into the requirements, roles and responsibilities of today’s CX leaders. 

But one of the most fascinating findings was that customer experience leadership is no one single role. Indeed, our study indicates that different categories of CX leaders exist, replete with different roles and responsibilities. 

And the nature of customer experience leadership that is present at an organisation appears to be influenced by where they sit within the business and, specifically, to whom they report. 

Rise of the CX leader

The past 10 years has witnessed a proliferation of customer experience leadership roles, but when MyCustomer launched its CX Leader of the Year award to recognise the achievements of professionals in this field, it became clear from reading through the applications that there was a great variation in the background and experience of CX leaders, as well as their roles and requirements.

To learn more about this, MyCustomer conducted a global survey of 75 customer experience leaders across EMEA, North America and Asia Pacific, resulting in the Rise of the Customer Experience Leader: 2020 research report, published in collaboration with Confirmit.

Different categories of CX leaders exist, replete with different roles and responsibilities. 

While it is packed with interesting insights, one of the standout findings is the clear divide that exists between those CX professionals that operate under the management of the marketing department, and those that are more independent and report directly to the CEO. 

Not only are there marked differences in their ownership, but there are also clear disparities in their size, roles and remits. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of these CX leaders. 

Who are the CX leaders that report to the CEO?

Over a third (39%) of our respondents report directly to the CEO, with a further 11% reporting to the c-suite as a whole. The vast majority of these run CX programmes that have their own budget. 

These teams are often quite large - 29% told us that their teams have over 20 staff, while a quarter have 6-10 employees. A further third have between 2-5 staff. 

The focus of their CX programmes is holistic, covering areas that you would expect are the bread and butter for customer experience leaders (every one of these respondents were responsible for creating the CX strategy), but also overseeing areas including customer insight (88%) and customer service (83%). 

CX Leader research

Crucially, most of the CX leaders that reported directly to the CEO oversaw their organisation’s contact centre (67%) - unlike their counterparts that report to the CMO.

Unsurprisingly, with such a broad remit, they have been directly involved in investment in a wide variety of different tools, ranging from customer journey analytics (83%) to surveying tools (75%) to web analytics and live chat (46%), CRM (42%), helpdesk/self service 54%, and customer data platforms (38%).

Nearly two-thirds told us that there was also a company-wide feeling that customer experiences are improving

Overall, the results reported by this breed of CX leader were impressive and wide-ranging. Most (83%) reported they had measured an increase in customer satisfaction during their tenure, while most also reported improvements in NPS (58%), customer churn (54%) and growth in revenue associated with CX (58%).

Nearly two-thirds (63%) also told us that there was also a company-wide feeling that customer experiences are improving. Elsewhere, 42% reported that their stats had improved compared to their competitors’. 

Who are the CX leaders that sit within marketing?

A fifth of the customer experience leaders we surveyed report to the CMO, with many of their CX programmes being funded by the marketing budget. These are also most commonly smaller customer experience teams, with nearly three-quarters (71%) having 2-5 team members. 

Unlike their counterparts who report to the CEO, these CX leaders run programmes that have a much smaller remit. While most (86%) are responsible for the organisation’s customer experience strategy, almost none of these respondents told us they had any involvement in the customer service side of the business, instead focusing almost exclusively on more insight-focused tasks. 

These included conducting market research (reported by two-thirds), having responsibility for surfacing customer insights (half of respondents), and overseeing their data (a third).  

CX leader research

Unsurprisingly, their investment has predominantly been on analytics tools and surveying tools. 

And with a different set of responsibilities, they also reported a different set of results, with just over a half reporting that they had registered improvements in CSAT and NPS during their tenure. However, half reported they had achieved growth in revenue associated with CX, which is comparable to their counterparts, while nearly two-thirds (71%) told us that there was a company-wide feeling that customer experiences are improving. 

Will one become dominant?

Overall, our findings indicate that CX leaders that report to the CEO tend to run programmes with a much more rounded set of responsibilities relating to customer experience management, while the CX leaders reporting to the marketing department are (aside from customer experience strategy) very focused on more marketing-based disciplines – specifically, market research and customer insight - almost to the exclusion of all other responsibilities.

CX leadership report

Of course, it’s a case of ‘horses for courses’ ultimately, and those organisations that have customer experience teams that are a part of the marketing set-up may feel that they are getting everything that they require. Certainly the fact that there are fairly similar results in terms of the growth in revenue would appear to indicate that if the contribution to the business is measured in dollars and cents (and there are indications that this is the way the wind is blowing) then it’s all much of a muchness. 

But from a wider perspective, those CX leaders that have a more holistic role appear to be delivering on a wider set of metrics - with the caveat that there is far greater investment in resources in these teams. 

“Operational’ CX and ‘research’ CX both have their place - it's important to recognise the need for both and co-ordinate," says Claire Sporton, SVP for customer experience innovation at Confirmit. "Remember our ultimate role is to be the ‘coach’ to the business and its leadership team – enabling them to make smarter decisions and drive better business outcomes aligned to their strategy. 

“CX leaders are a diverse bunch, and have a good grasp of the challenges they face. The next challenge is to become agents of change, not just reporters of data.”

We shall continue to watch with interest how this role develops, and perhaps the next time we conduct this survey one or other of these two breeds of CX leadership will have become the dominant model. 


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