Where CX Should Live Within An Organization

My colleagues and I have seen far too many instances of customer experience programs turning into (or frankly never becoming more than) measurement-only programs no matter where they live within an organization. During a recent discussion, one of my teammates stated, "Marketing is where CX goes to die."

Having led the customer experience function in multiple Fortune 500 companies, and having reported to the chief marketing officer, chief operating officer, and directly to the president/CEO at various points, this conversation made me think about what impact the reporting relationship has on CX success. Is there one best place for CX to live, or can it be successful in multiple areas?  

Regardless of where CX lives, the team must remain unbiased and have the purview to work cross-functionally to drive collaboration and break down silos. Without that organizational freedom and neutrality, the team's efforts are already handcuffed and chances of CX success are greatly diminished.

While many companies have added a seat at the table for a chief customer officer (CCO) or chief experience officer (CXO) in recent years, we still see most CX functions report to either the CMO or COO. There are pros and cons to each of these reporting relationships:

Reporting Relationship



Marketing (CMO)

  • Tied more closely to the brand promise of the organization (since CX is the fulfillment of that promise).

  • Tied more closely to the communication function. Too many CX functions don't think about the role communication plays in the overall experience, but this is where the customer expectations get set.

  • Part of a more holistic view of the company and the customer journey. 

  • Marketing (or strategy) is more likely to consider the experience of the future as opposed to only today's experience.

  • Might be too far removed from the actual frontline customer interactions, so it can be more difficult to implement change.

  • Often too closely tied to marketing's priorities and budget.

  • Can marketing enforce an effective closed-loop process if that work happens elsewhere in the organization?

  • Marketing is often more focused on customer acquisition and top-of-funnel activities.

Operations (COO)

  • More closely tied to frontline customer interactions.

  • Typically has good success with enforcing a strong closed-loop process (if staffed and funded properly).

  • Operations are typically focused and measured on customer retention.

  • Unless digital and call centers report to the COO, the program can get too focused on in-person or physical interactions.

  • Can be too focused on break/fix of today's experience and not focused on overall CX strategy, process redesign, or experience design. Programs can get very tactical.

  • Susceptible to budget cuts and quarterly targets, whereas CX tends to be a medium- to long-term proposition.

  • Might get too focused on cost to serve or cost reduction.

Chief Experience Officer

  • Easier alignment to executive goals and buy-in.

  • Budget is set aside specifically for one purpose and can have less constraints.

  • Easier to build relationships around CX with each department to break down silos.

  • No preconceived agenda except to improve experiences.

  • Can be seen as a culture builder.

  • Good at coordinating strategies across departments, channels, and journeys.

  • Difficult to get all departments aligned to taking action as they can be seen as an outsider.

  • More difficult to be in synch with the day-to-day business rhythm.

  • Focus often on medium- or long-term initiatives while peers focus on quarterly results.

This job isn't easy or for the faint-of-heart; frankly, CX leaders often end up working against what is natural for an organization. Most businesses are organized into silos: marketing, sales, operations, customer care, HR, IT, finance, etc. These silos all have their own priorities, goals, and key performance indicators. But customer experience is a ribbon that cuts across these silos, and an effective CX program ensures that hand-offs between silos are clean and that no facet of the customer experience falls into the cracks. 

CX leaders need to drive cross-functional alignment, build relationships that elicit cooperation, and break down organizational silos to create coordination across the entire customer journey. They must accomplish this task despite not owning most, if not all, of the departments that ultimately deliver that desired experience.

After a career spent leading CX at multiple companies across multiple industries—and learning my fair share of hard-knock lessons along the way—I've put together my top eight requirements for successful CX leaders:

  1. Willingness to be a change agent;
  2. Executive presence and sensibility;
  3. Ability to build cross-functional relationships;
  4. Lead by influence and persuasion;
  5. Strong communication skills;
  6. Analytical and data-driven;
  7. Financial acumen;
  8. Results-oriented problem solver.

Clearly, these skills are all heavily intertwined, as CX leaders must have strong communication skills to build relationships and influence executive leaders. They must be data-driven with strong financial instinct to convince leadership to change behavior or to take new actions (building a strong relationship with the CFO and their team is a smart early move). 

The success or failure of a CX program depends on many factors: the strategy and goals defined at the onset, the internal commitment to improvements, the executives, the employees, and the foundational and organizational elements that are in place. CX success also hinges on appointing a leader who is an effective communicator and can sell a vision, create alignment based on shared business goals, and curate a shared understanding of customer needs, expectations, and journeys.

The Essential Elements for a Successful CX Program

I have a continuous improvement framework that I use to achieve one or more of four key economic pillars: acquiring more customers, keeping more customers (reducing churn), growing lifetime customer value (CLV) or reducing cost to serve. The five stages of this improvement framework are as follows:

  1. Design: Clearly design an experience strategy that aligns with overall company goals and brand promise, driving customer outcomes.
  2. Listen: Thoughtfully deploy modern listening strategies and data integrations across the journey to expand and enhance an integrated view and holistic customer understanding.
  3. Understand: Consolidate all data streams and leverage advanced analytics to identify where and how to act (and the anticipated impact on customer outcomes).
  4. Transform: Create and implement dynamic action plans, training, and policies that facilitate organizational change (and promote activities that drive customer outcomes).
  5. Realize: Evaluate and demonstrate results of experience initiatives, including organizational change, improved metrics, and financial impact.

Beyond those five core stages, though, there are certain foundational and organizational elements that must be present for CX to thrive in your company. These include the following: 

  • CX Strategy: Defining the desired future state, creating cross-functional alignment, and a shared understanding of customers and their journeys.
  • Customer-Centric Culture: The shared beliefs, assumptions, values, and behaviors across all levels in the organization, particularly as they relate to customers and decision-making.
  • Employee Experience: Understanding the relationship between employee and customer experience and capturing the voice of the employee (VoE) as a source of CX improvement initiatives.
  • Executive Leadership and Communication: Making CX a strategic priority; communicating expectations; modeling, recognizing, reinforcing, and rewarding desired behaviors.
  • Governance: How the company is structured or organized to manage improvement across the customer experience; having a strong process for resource allocation and managing a portfolio of improvement efforts.
  • Organizational and Foundational Readiness: How capable are IT systems and data structures at enabling a single view of the customer, and can you achieve cross-functional alignment around what the data is telling you?

Driving ROI from your customer experience efforts continues to be the biggest conversation in the CX community and the greatest challenge for most companies. And your C-level executives, board, and shareholders expect this. Being organized properly, having the right people with the skill sets in place, migrating your culture to one of customer-centricity, and getting organizational alignment on what customers need and how to best and most efficiently meet these desires is really tough work. But it is critical to have all of these elements in place  to drive the best CX outcomes. And the companies that can do this stand to reap the greatest benefits in future revenue, market share growth, and long-term profitability. 

Eric Smuda is principal of CX strategy and enablement at InMoment.