Do the best CX leaders have a background in IT?
Most customer experience programme leaders come from marketing or customer support. But can IT leaders bring more to the table than both of those?
Chief customer officers (CCOs) are popping up in boardrooms across Fortune 500 companies in ever increasing numbers. Those chosen for the position often come from marketing or customer support, as those disciplines are thought of as having the most interaction with customers, making them seem like a natural fit. (Ed's note: see MyCustomer's research report into CX leadership for findings that demonstrate this point).
But are those departments really the best pipeline for filling CCO roles? I don’t think so.
To maximise success, your CCO should come from IT
Some of the best minds in CX have come from IT. Our own Jim Tincher, Heart of the Customer’s founder and mapper-in-chief, spent 14 years in IT roles. The CCO of Rigor and the customer officer for MTN both came from IT and strategy backgrounds and lead successful CX programmes.
Why? Because IT leaders know how to engage the C-Suite and show value based on strategic priorities. They have a view of the whole organisation and are used to designing experiences with the customer in mind. There is no other single role in a company that better prepares someone to lead your CX strategy.
I know this because I have lived this. I am an IT veteran, with 25 years of experience implementing strategic initiatives at Fortune 500 companies. I have always been passionate about my customers.
I was the one who made it mandatory for my team to be in the stores at Best Buy to understand the associates and the customers. My teams sat with those doing the clinical trials to understand their pain points and Moments of Truth. My engineering team went through the process when optimising corporate incentive programmes.
What IT leaders bring to the table
Consider these four fundamental reasons why an information technology (IT) background is actually the best fit for the CCO role:
1. C-suite engagement is key to CX success
Customer experience (CX) today is facing the need to transition from being a cost centre to providing measurable value. That’s where IT was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so seasoned IT leaders have decades of experience making a business case for their work.
Their success is in doing so is one of the reasons IT is now at the heart of just about every company’s strategy, with few Fortune 500 companies not engaging in some digital transformation effort. The IT leaders who have had to show measurable success year after year for almost two decades understand the imperative of bringing value. Here are just a few examples:
- Medtronic’s document management for clinical trials has boosted speed-to-market in the US and Europe, resulting in millions of dollars in sales for each day saved. The company increased profits, and life-saving products got to customers faster.
- Best Buy’s redesign of subscription services and reverse logistics saved money, reduced employee uncertainty, and allowed frontline employees to focus more on the customer experience. The redesign addressed how to handle returns (e.g. put it on the shelf at reduced price as an open box item, send it to the warehouse to be sold to bulk resellers, or send it back to the vendor for credit), where wrong choices cost large retailers millions of dollars each year.
- Blue Cross Blue Shield’s implementation of IT-supported procedure preapproval systems reduced the process from up to six weeks to less than one week. With patients getting needed treatment in a timelier manner, customers satisfaction went way up and costs for emergency interventions were reduced.
- AM Retail’s ship-from-store system increased available inventory on its website tenfold. This increased customers’ ability to located less common sizes, and sped up delivery (often cutting transit time to one day) by enabling shipping from local stores.
- The Oceanaire Seafood Room’s linked point-of-service (POS) system feeds real-time information about fresh fish purchases to its website, providing customers with updates on what’s available. This enhances brand differentiation for their menu, which changes daily based on what fresh fish is available, strengthens the brand promise, and reduces calls to the restaurants.
2. CX success depends on involving the entire company
In their recent journey mapping guidebook, How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?, Jim Tincher and Nicole Newton revealed that the success of any customer journey mapping project is dependent on involving the right cross-functional team, including every department that has an impact on the customer journey. In her Dec 5th, 2019 Podcast, Jeanne Bliss commented that No other department besides IT has a view into the day-to-day working of all parts of the organisation.
HR processes use IT systems, marketing uses IT systems, etc. The best IT leaders are the ones who understand what drives their internal customers. This is why so many great strategy consultants start by implementing systems and in the process become experts on how the business runs.
3. Customers’ journeys need to be deliberately designed
McKinsey research reveals that most successful companies design their end-to-end customer journey, because “performance on journeys is substantially more strongly correlated with customer satisfaction than performance on touchpoints - and performance on journeys is significantly more strongly correlated with business outcomes…”
Not doing that can lead to confusion, customer churn, and lower NPS scores. Successful IT people budget 25% to 40% of project time to gathering requirements. And IT people know 70% of the time projects fail it’s because of poor requirements. A deep understanding of the need to design an entire experience is ingrained into the IT mentality.
The best IT leaders walk in the shoes of their customers in the design phases. In retail, leaders run the registers to experience what their own customers feel, but also to get a feel for the end customer. A good IT leader will shop the store, be a part of the loyalty programme, and buy online to understand the supply chain experience. It is built into the DNA of great IT leaders to capture and respond to the Voice of the Customer.
Furthermore, IT requirements gathering uses the same best practices that make up the core of the most successful customer journey mapping projects:
- Gather stakeholder information on the purpose and value of the project.
- Outline the process based on a conference room pilot workshop.
- Talk to the customers who will be using the project, then talk to them some more until you get clarity.
- Document the requirements and get signoff on what the process needs to be.
4. IT often has the most experience being a customer
It helps to be able to understand what it is to be a customer. In a B2B environment a large number of vendor relationships are managed in some way by the IT department. If the HR vendor is not producing, IT is often called in to negotiate a solution. The IvR platforms and customer survey platform vendors already reside in IT as relationships to manage.
So what are your thoughts about where the most successful chief customer officers should hail from?
This article adapted from an original piece that appeared on Heart of the Customer's blog.
Over the last 20 years, Shawn Phillips has improved customer and employee journeys while implementing strategic software solutions at companies such as American Eagle, BlueCross/BlueShield, and Roots Canada. He’s skilled at pushing meaningful conversations that get to the heart of a business problem and uncovering data-supported solutions that...