The Chief Customer Officer – Connecting the Company for Customers

Over the years, the organizational model that defines many businesses has been cast.  Products and services are developed separately in traditional silos—marketing, sales, shipping, operations, etc.—created to drive competency vertically. And those of us working inside the silos have learned that success can be achieved most easily through compartmentalizing our work and staying singularly focused on our mission.

But customers do not experience a company down its silos. The customer experiences a company horizontally, across the silos. As a result, the typical silo structure bumps the customer disjointedly along to deliver the outcome of the customer’s experience. It’s only when the silos clang and clash into one another that the total experience comes together. And the customer becomes the grand guinea pig, experiencing each variation of an organization’s ability— or inability—to work together.

This outcome is the brands’ defaulted customer experience, and it’s what it becomes known for in the marketplace. Companies don’t plan their brand experience; they leave it to chance. And they leave the determinants customers use to decide if they’ll return—their impression of the company, brand values, differentiation, and how they are treated—to chance as well. And they hope it will be all right.

But it isn’t. Across the world, after all these years of supposed focus on the customer, as many as two-thirds of all customers leave due to poor customer service. This means that the breakdowns in the execution of our basic interactions with customers make them exasperated enough to walk. What we have now is a frenzied awareness of a problem which (you know, you’ve lived this) often leads to an even more frenzied approach to a “solution.”

It’s as if we’re all working with one hand tied behind our backs. To see what I mean, answer these questions: Do you have to lobby other silos to work collaboratively so you can get the best outcome for customers? How much time do you spend lobbying versus actually working together? How many of the completed ideas look vaguely like the one you started with? And—the kicker—how many of them end up delivering something better for customers?

Do You Need a Chief Customer Officer?

Most CEOs no longer need to be convinced of the importance of retaining customers and developing relationships with customers.  What’s on their mind is how to accomplish this feat inside their organizations.  With achievement in the customer work remaining elusive, organizations are now considering the creation of a high-level position to drive the action.

Throwing head count at the customer challenge is not necessarily the automatic solution. This should not be a quick or easy decision. Because many organizations are now on their third or even fourth gasp of focusing on the customer, missteps here would make the customer work sink lower and lower as something not to be taken seriously.

The key to making that decision lies in first understanding what the work encompasses. Before you rush out and hire a CCO, take stock of where the company is culturally and decide if the time is right to bring someone in to make the big customer push.  Here are 11 questions that will help you determine whether you’re ready for a CCO:

1. Is there someone in our company who clarifies what we are to accomplish with customers?

__ YES there is                   __ NO there is not

Implementation Tip: These agreements need to be established in partnership with the functional owners across the organization. It is important to make sure that the CCO or executive leadership does not do this in a vacuum and then try to “throw the brick over the wall” to the leaders to rubber-stamp.

2. Is there a clear process to drive alignment for what will be accomplished?

          __YES there is                    __ NO there is not

Implementation Tip: The best leaders I’ve worked with drive people into discussion by going around the table and asking each to state his or her commitment or dissent. These leaders make it okay to disagree if someone is not comfortable with what’s being proposed.

3. Do we have a road map for the customer work and know where progress will be measured?

          __ YES we do                     __ NO we do not

Implementation Tip: This needs to be a group effort. Bring together a team of people with at least one person from every operational area. This group needs to get into the ramifications and work involved in getting the priorities done.

4. Do clear metrics exist for measuring progress, which everyone agrees to use?

          __ YES they do                   __ NO they do not

Implementation Tip: Pick a few key metrics that everyone understands, knows their roles in, and can follow.  The large score cards we have all created have become almost meaningless because they are filled with so much data.  

5. Is there real clarity of everyone’s roles and responsibilities?

          __ YES there is                   __ NO there is not

Implementation Tip: This is about the handoffs between the silos. Make sure that there is a task list that clearly states which parts of the organization must come together to get the priorities accomplished. Too often these goals are kept lofty and high, and people aren’t made accountable for their completion.

6. Do people really participate and care about the customer work?

          __YES they do                    __NO they do not

Implementation Tip:  You need to get a commitment from each operational area leader on the head count and the amount of staff time they will contribute. Create a formalized team, where 25 to 50 percent of people's time from areas throughout the company is dedicated to the customer work.

7. Are appropriate resources allocated to make a real difference to customers?

          __ YES there are                 __NO there are not

Implementation Tip: Hand waving without investment won’t get you anywhere. The key here is to have an organized annual planning approach that dedicates time to the customer objectives and customer investment. The chief executive needs to be personally involved. To achieve success, specific actions with defined parameters of what needs to be accomplished must be identified.

8. Is there an understandable process for people to work together?

          __ YES there is                   __ NO there is not

Implementation Tip: This work is as clear as mud. It starts with a high-level frenzy that in the blink of an eye has people going back to business as usual. The process for how the work will be defined, reviewed, executed, and rewarded has got to be laid out clearly.

9. Is the work considered attainable?

          __ YES it is                        __NO it is not

Implementation Tip: Our frenzied enthusiasm gets away from us, and we talk about the end “nirvana” state rather than the steps to get there. What I learned is not to abandon strategy but to dole it out in bite-size pieces. You need to know the end game. But then you need to bridge the gap between strategy and execution so people can work it into budgets, priorities, and planning.

10. Does a process exist for marketing achievements to customers and internally?

          __ YES it does                    __NO it does not

Implementation Tip: When you don’t tell people internally what’s going on with the customer, it’s all white noise to them. No report equals no action. You must make a point of marketing back to both your customers and internally inside the organization.

11. Are recognition and reward wired to motivate customer work?

          __ YES they are                            __ NO they are not

Implementation Tip: The customer work is not going to seem important until people start to be publicly commended and rewarded for it. Make every company gathering an opportunity to call out customer achievements and reward people for them.

Now the question now comes back to you.

Is anyone taking these actions? Is anyone even thinking about them? Does anyone have the time to? Don’t just ask these questions, stew over them. Debate them with the top leadership and board. And know that whatever you decide, driving customer profitability isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Is it realistic in your organization to divide and conquer these tasks? If you can, your organization is well adjusted. Having the operational areas own the responsibility and share the administrative parts of this work would be heaven. But I haven't seen many evolved companies that are ready for this. It’s the pushing and prodding part of the work that most companies need someone to spearhead. That becomes the role of the chief customer officer.

If you decide to proceed with a chief customer officer exploration, make sure that you have consensus to go ahead with the role. The people whose sandbox the CCO will be in frequently had better agree up front to the company and to the discomfort that’s to come as a result of the work. Think hard about your appetite and aptitude for the work. Temper this with the fact that this is at minimum a five-year journey. Pace yourself.