Chief Customer Officers Create a Unified Approach to the Customer

For a position that is relatively new to the C-suite, the chief customer officer (CCO) plays an integral role in seamlessly aligning business priorities with what customers value. It's a role that has gained traction as more businesses realize exceptional customer experience is a key driver of long-term success.

According to the Chief Customer Officer Council, the CCO is defined as "an executive that provides the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer and creates corporate and customer strategy at the highest levels of the company to maximize customer acquisition, retention, and profitability."

The rise of the CCO indicates the shift toward customer-centricity as a result of digital transformation. Today, consumers have more choice and greater access to information than ever before, giving them a powerful voice. Companies, therefore, need to put the needs of the customer at the center of everything they do and be able to show that they are listening to and solving for the customer first and foremost.

However, delivering on an exceptional customer experience that is seamless, intuitive, and timely at every interaction takes more than just having an effective CX strategy. It means taking a holistic, company-wide approach. The CCO role has reinvented the customer experience by shifting the focus to proactively delighting customers, often providing help before they even know they need it. This means ensuring all parts of the business are committed to starting conversations with customers wherever they are in their journeys rather than where the company is. This can only be achieved effectively by ensuring the company is set up and equipped to shift priorities quickly to meet their changing needs.

The Chief Customer Officer Council estimates there are still only 500 CCOs in the role worldwide. While it's an evolving role that looks different for different industries, there are key focuses that every customer-centric leader should have.

For me, delivering for our customers starts from inside the organization, with employees who are passionate about our purpose to make life better for people in small business, their advisors, and communities around the world. When we hire the right people who believe in our purpose, we give them the ability to play to their strengths, and they are empowered to make decisions that best support our customers. That creates a powerful proposition that enables us to provide a beautiful experience for our customers at every stage of their journeys.

For those newly entering, still adjusting to, or looking to become a CCO, here are four tips that will give you the best chance at success.

1. Customer focus starts on the inside.

The role of the CCO is first to bring together all customer-facing teams to ensure collaboration and alignment, and then you can leverage each function to enable timely decisions that best serve the customer.

The customer journey must be a unifying focus for all teams, from marketing to sales, through to the customer experience team. Having all functional teams aligned to the customer journey and working toward the same purpose and goals will ensure the experience is seamless, simple, and intuitive. Understanding all customer touchpoints and how they connect together is fundamental to customer success.

It's crucial to have a clear purpose or mission to which the customer can connect, and it starts with your people. Combining the right people with a clear purpose evokes a heightened sense of meaning and purpose that is hugely motivational. I call this the human ripple effect, and it becomes contagious, resonating out through the customer community.

2. What gets measured gets managed, so use data to guide decision-making.

Clear metrics are an undoubtedly important part of the CCO role, especially when navigating this increasingly complex business environment.&

It is vital when starting in the role to understand who your customers are, what they need (sometimes even before they know they need it), and how you can provide value to them. These insights can all be measured with quality data that should become your north star.

It's important to understand how you can use technology and data to provide a personalized customer experience. Having robust data can help you learn more about your customers, and layering machine learning algorithms on top of that will allow you to discover new insights into how you can best serve your customers. As an example, our customer support platform, Xero Central, uses machine learning models that optimize the effectiveness of search and recommendations, allowing us to personalize search results based on user data. And moreover, anticipate the next action or question and serve up the right content for them to digest right before they even know they need it.

Today, nine out of 10 Xero customers solve their own queries without having to raise a ticket, through self-service help content on Xero Central. This means our support agents spend less time answering simple queries and can focus on solving more complex issues for our customers and deepening relationships across our whole customer base.

3. Connect the customer journey at every touchpoint.

Chief customer officers have the unique privilege of overseeing many parts of the organization, including revenue, digital and direct sales, partnerships, engagements, marketing, and customer support, among others. Having this oversight means they can remove siloed ways of working and ensure all business functions are interconnected, aligned, and committed to shared goals.

When the pandemic hit, organizations that had set up their business structures to be closely aligned were able to make well-informed and fast decisions. For those that had a CCO, their teams were able to quickly feed data into marketing, communications, product, and digital responses to customers.

This was the case for us at Xero, where through this structure we were able to quickly respond to customer needs. We created a customer response team overnight to support urgent customer queries; we launched a business continuity hub to help business owners access information needed for government support programs; and we were able to actively listen to customers and develop product features and tools to meet their changing and imminent needs.

4. Start every conversation with the customer.

Other than the sales team, you're likely the one thinking about customer needs the most of anyone else in the business, but not everyone is going to operate from this same vantage point.

Surround yourself with the best people within the disciplines that you lead. You don't have to be an expert in all areas, but it's important to ask questions and listen actively. This will help you connect the dots across different areas of the business and make decisions with customers' needs at the center.

Communicating a clear vision to all functions will help to embed a customer-centric mindset and culture into the business.

Driving a customer-centric focus is challenging. It takes energy because it involves collaboration across the whole organization. However, the rewards you reap from these efforts far outweigh the effort required to rewire the business for operational effectiveness and customer centricity. Once you have a clear strategy, a well-aligned operating model, and a purpose to which your people and customers are connected, the rest will follow.

Rachael Powell is chief customer officer at Xero.