chief customer officer marketing

Should the chief customer officer oversee marketing?


Some of the world's biggest brands are restructuring so that the marketing department reports to the company's customer experience leader. After years of the chief marketing officer having ownership of CX, why is this shift happening now - and will it stick?

31st Aug 2021

When McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski decided that he wanted the fast food giant to become more customer-centric and reflect the way that modern consumers engage with his restaurants, he realised a big change was required. 

Therefore, last month McDonald’s announced the creation of a new customer experience team, headed by the company’s first chief customer officer. But the devil was in the detail. Because in order to remove the internal barriers and silos that Kempczinski believes were leading to fragmented customer experiences, he also restructured the organisation so that new CCO Manu Steijaert would have multiple teams reporting into him, including data analytics & digital customer engagement, global restaurant development & restaurant - and global marketing. 

This structure, with marketing reporting into CX, is something of an emerging trend. A similar reshuffle at Walmart has chief customer officer Janey Whiteside overseeing the retail behemoth’s marketing department.

The news has been warmly welcomed in some quarters. Commenting on the news of McDonald’s restructure on LinkedIn, author and keynote speaker Jason S Bradshaw said: “This is absolutely the way it should be. As the first Chief Customer Officer of Volkswagen Group Australia the work got even better when I became the first Chief Customer & Marketing Officer ... marketing is selling a brand promise - that has to be aligned to the Customer Experience delivered.”

And on the same thread, Mike Soldan, chief experience officer at Shmoop added: “We just moved Marketing into my org and the accuracy and effectiveness of our value prop has gone through the roof. No one knows what your customers want/need to hear more than the people that built and support the products and customers.”

Should the CMO oversee customer experience?

Some were surprised by the move, however. Sandra De Zoysa, group chief customer officer at Dialog Axiata, notes: “This trend is rather intriguing to me personally. Traditionally, customer service and CX sell under the purview of the CMO and in more recent times, under the chief digital officer, where there is no CCO. However, to think that in the future these roles will be reversed and the CMO’s portfolio can actually fall within the CCO is a huge shift of power in the right direction. Wow!”

Indeed, historically customer experience has often reported to the CMO, rather than the other way around. And research from the CMO Council from earlier this year found that many senior business executives in large organisations believe it to be the role of their marketing department to have ownership of the customer experience. But many in CX circles believe that this is a flawed structure. 

Chief customer service experience officer Alex Mead says: “This is by far the most common approach being taken by organisations, and from my perspective it is completely wrong. Marketing leaders lack the understanding of the importance of slick, effortless, engaging customer interaction and service experiences, nor do they have the knowledge on how to deliver what modern day customers want. That is why we often see companies with amazing brand & marketing experiences, losing their customers because of awful customer service experience journeys.

“If the CMO truly walks in their customers shoes, experiences painful multichannel customer contact designs, observes the effect of missing / late deliveries, spots the huge frustration from customers that can't easily ask a question across the channel they want, and in the way they want, AND THEN if they truly take the time to understand the customers pain points, and empower the right people to address them, then that can be used to positively influence the entire company's brand and marketing strategy. But the reality is this is a very rare situation indeed.”

Should the chief customer officer oversee marketing?

Unsurprisingly, then, the CX community has welcomed the idea that the new structure could proliferate.

Speaker, author and writer about Doing Customer Experience (CX) Right, Stacy Sherman, has spent her entire career in sales, marketing and CX roles, and believes the growth in CXO roles and the resulting restructures will be a very positive thing for companies. 

“I believe there is a trend happening and companies like McDonald’s and Walmart are paving the way. If you search on common job sites, you’ll see companies are hiring CX managers and related executive positions at a faster rate than ever before. 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 customer experience officer 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.

“I don’t see any negatives with CXO/CCO overseeing marketing, other than it will take time to gain believers and supporters.” 

Alex Mead believes that the fact McDonald’s chief marketing officer Morgan Flatley will report into the new role of CCO is a great move.

“I love the principle of people with true focus on their customer's service interaction experiences leading the company CX agenda, supported by Marketing, not the other way round. I will watch McDonald's progress with great interest.”

What is the future of the chief customer officer?

Nonetheless, some still have their concerns about the longer-term future of the role of the CCO and the role within organisations, in particular because of the blurring of lines between CX and marketing. 

Keith Gait, leader at The Customer Experience Foundation, and former customer services director at Stagecoach Bus, believes that the trend of marketing people taking chief customer officer roles will still continue. “Marketing and customer are being bundled into the same responsibilities. No-one from CX land likes that - but we’re losing the argument. 

“We perennially seem to have a wider debate about what the CCO role actually is. We could line up 15 or 20 CX "experts" from across the globe, and we would barely be able to get them to agree that it's Tuesday. That's typical of our profession. The industry doesn't help itself. Meanwhile, marketing are marching their tanks on our lawn.

“We have to define that CX is not just marketing. Marketing fought for years to define that they were not just sales. How did they do that? A large part of it was through professional development, standards, and education. The CIM and DMA did a great job of that, but it took many years.

“We don't have that in our sector as yet. The CCXP is great as far as it goes, but it is not academically rigorous enough to stand up to an MBA, MSc or a Chartered Diploma. It is a start but we have a very long way to go, although maybe we have left it too late?”

Alex Mead also has his concerns: “I have said for a long time there are two distinctly different aspects to CX. The customer interaction & service experience (CSX), and the brand & marketing experiences (BMX). Too often we see CMOs promoted to being CCO's when they have no real understanding of the importance of CSX to customers, or indeed how to deliver the CSX customers actually want. But of course when a CCO role is created that combines both CX requirements, both CSX and BMX need to be delivered in parallel.  

“So from my perspective I would prefer to see a CCO role focusing on CSX with a CMO counterpart focusing on BMX. So, I think the risk of merging them into one combined chief customer role means something will definitely get lost.”

Nevertheless, Mead believes that with the appointment of Manu Steijaert, McDonald’s may have the right person for the right job.

“I think the appointment of Manu as chief customer officer at McDonald's is a very positive one,” he concludes. “This is because Manu clearly has a service operations background. It seems he has spent a huge amount of his career in McDonald's driving customer experience improvements in the real-world right down to the restaurants themselves, not just focusing on the usual 'Marketing CX Talk' world we normally see.”  

But tt remains to be seen whether this latest trend of CX leaders overseeing marketing will become commonplace, or if it will be a failed experiment from a few industry giants. 


Replies (4)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

Dr. Graham Hill
By Dr. Graham Hill
08th Sep 2021 07:59

Hi Neil
Thanks for a well written article that covers the ground from different perspectives. I would expect nothing less from a professional journalist like yourself.
If there is one question you should ask to decide who should own the customer - which is what this is really about - it is who makes the biggest contribution to increased profits, reduced costs, reduced risk and increased competitiveness, in other words, to SHV. Ownership of the customer and control over the different aspects of the end-to-end experience should go to the role that makes the biggest contribution to SHV. It really is that simple.
At the moment, the CX drives SHV proposition is a hypothesis with relatively weak evidence to support it. The Marketing drives SHV proposition, on the other hand, is a well established fact that gathers USD Billions in funding in contemporary business . Those companies that put Marketing under the new CXO role, particularly where the CXO doesn't control all of the interactions in the end-to-end experience, are putting what they think ought to work before what we know does work. They are making an expensive and perhaps disastrous bet.
Are you a betting man Neil? Would you bet the future of your company on CX?
Best regards, Graham

Thanks (1)
Replying to GrahamHill:
By Neil Davey
08th Sep 2021 10:10

Thanks for your comment, Graham!

I understand the concern about putting CX in charge of marketing - certainly organisations will be watching the McDonald's/Walmart experiment with great interest.

I don't necessarily think that putting CX in charge of marketing is destined to always deliver less value to shareholders than with marketing in the driving seat, but I do think that it would need the right chief customer officer in place (specifically one with very strong commercial credentials) and with the right remit. The question is, if a company has the position and person that fits that description, are they really a chief customer officer as we know it, or is it really just a very customer-focused CMO?

Thanks (1)
Replying to Neil Davey:
Dr. Graham Hill
By Dr. Graham Hill
13th Sep 2021 10:19

Hi Neil
I think you came to the same conclusion that I did.
While CX drives SHV is still an inadequately proven hypothesis, any company wishing to make a considered bet on CX by introducing the CXO role, should protect their current business performance by putting a proven, commercially-minded person into the role.
In other words, to expand the role of the CMO to include CX as well. Whether you now call them the CXO or not is moot, the key things is their focus on those customer facing activities that drive SHV.
Best regards, Graham

Thanks (1)
By seoworks
12th Nov 2021 16:34

CX will see the holistic journey from non-customer through to (hopefully) evangelist, so I see some sense in the points made. However marketing still need to be in control of their output and will be more tuned in to the necessary messages to engage customers. But ulimately it's all about experience nowadays and CX will hold the broader vision for this.

Thanks (0)