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Do you really need a chief customer officer? Five questions to ask

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8th May 2013
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Over the last few years, the profile of customer experience management (CEM) and Voice of the Customer (VoC) programmes has increased dramatically. Now, more than two years after Forrester trumpeted the arrival of the chief customer officer (CCO), and over 10 years after the first such position was created, the role is beginning to gain traction and requires clearer definition. CCOs provide ownership of CEM initiatives, and finally give customers a seat in the boardroom. Furthermore, as most companies have multiple, ad-hoc VoC and customer feedback activities running in different areas of the business, they provide a central point of control for these programmes and enable a holistic view of the customer.

But when do you ‘need’ a CCO? With budgets stretched, the creation of a senior, highly paid position with what may be seen as a rather ‘fuzzy’ mandate may be tricky to pull off without a certain amount of scepticism.

There are five useful questions to ask as you consider if your company needs – and can support – a CCO:

1. Can we clearly define the role?

This is vital. Because it’s a relatively new position, there’s no standard job specification to work from when building a CCO role. This makes it all the more important that you accurately define the role for your organisation. Not only do you need to provide a clear remit for a position that will impact every department in the company, but you also need to ensure its importance is understood by everyone. A sense amongst employees that it’s a re-badged customer service position - or worse simply a PR exercise - will undermine the appointed candidate and damage their chances of success.

2. How will we measure success?

As with any senior position, you need to create metrics to define success and provide achievable milestones. The broad reach of the CCO means there are a wide range of KPIs which you could consider; customer loyalty, retention rates, cost savings, overall ROI, for example. There are also ‘softer’ factors such as changes in corporate culture and improvement in company reputation.

3. Can we ensure support from across the company?

The role of the CCO will touch every department in the business and will need support from stakeholders within each department. When creating a CCO role, you need to be sure that support will be forthcoming. Much of this will be linked to the exact definition of the position, and how that’s translated to stakeholders, but if your corporate culture isn’t ‘there’ yet, you may need to lay some groundwork early on. The CCO’s objectives must relate directly to business priorities, so you should be able to create alignment with stakeholder goals.

4. How much influence can the role have?

Regardless of whether your CCO will have a team of their own, or will work primarily with stakeholders from other departments, much of their remit will involve reviewing practices that exist within other departments; sales, billing, marketing, etc. You’ll need to establish how these departments work with, and react to, your CCO’s involvement, and how to deal with conflicts. Clear direction and support from the CEO is paramount to ensuring the CCO position isn’t just paying lip service. Ultimately, doing right by the customer, and seeing the benefits on the bottom line will ensure alignment, but getting off to the right start is crucial.

5. How will the CCO role evolve?

A key objective for a CEM programme is the need to review your goals regularly. Once the quick wins are out of the way, you need to address the longer-term pieces and the way you approach the programme will change. This will be true for your CCO as well. Initially, you may need some quick wins to gain support and test working practices, but to drive business change, particularly in areas like corporate culture, you’ll need to revisit the success criteria and targets of your CCO. Consider how the role will evolve over the first 3-5 years so you can plan effectively.

Clearly, the answers to these questions will vary dramatically depending on where your business is in the VoC journey. A CCO may be the next step, or it might be a way to move your company down that road with greater speed. Or it may be a bridge too far at this point. If you are ready, remember that to be effective, a CCO’s role must be:

  • Strategic: There will be quick-wins but much of the CCO’s role revolves around a long-term, holistic approach to ensuring your business builds and maintains a customer-focused culture.
  • Process-orientated: The strategies your CCO builds will take shape through changes in processes that will improve customer experiences and empower employees.
  • Influential: Many changes will actually take place in ‘someone else’s’ department so the CCO must be able to push change through by using VoC data to demonstrate what matters to customers, and to the bottom line.
  • Holistic: Your CCO must be able to get clear insight into all customer touchpoints, channels and feedback to understand how customers feel about your business, which issues need to be addressed and what action is a priority.
  • Demonstrable: The CCO should be able to clearly demonstrate the impact of the changes they’ve implemented. As well as regular updates, this should include live, accessible reports that show the status of ongoing activity and the impact on customer loyalty, NPS or other KPI that you focus on.

The limited precedent for the CCO role makes it a daunting step to take, but it provides an opportunity for businesses to get ahead of the curve in terms of building profitable growth and a loyal customer base. For companies working to create a successful customer experience management programme, the CCO represents the embodiment of its aims, and with the right team and solutions behind them, they can be a real driver for change in any business. 

Karine Del Moro is vice president at Confirmit.

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