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Attention C-Suite: The Times They Are A-Changin’

Posted on : 29-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media


The C-Suite needs to hear some words from Bob Dylan:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

I have planned this post for a while.  In fact, it was planned to be the post to start the new year, but yesterday I read a Forbes article “Chief Reputation Office Whose Job is it Anyway.”  It’s a great start to the conversation that has been on everyone’s mind.  The business environment has dramatically changed, thanks to the economy, and the new found power that the Customer has in the social web.  These are not new thoughts, but change has been slow at the top for most companies.  The slow speed has nothing to do with not wanting to change (there may be some of that), but the business environment has been changing dramatically, with no clear idea of what the investment world will look like when the future normalcy returns.

When I started in social media I heard a lot about the convergence of marketing, PR and Customer Service.  I could not agree more that this has been happening for a long time, and social media is not the only driver.  When I have spoken to “marketing” experts, they have presented a view that marketing should be the one that leads the way.  In their mind PR and service are simply a form of marketing.  “PR” experts have made the case that marketing and service are part of reputation, which is a key function of PR.  When I have discussed this, I have always made the point that marketing’s goals have been centered around sales.  PR has concentrated on reputation.  Both are very important aspects to a social media plan.  Customer Service on the other hand, has no interest in taking on the additional responsibility of social media.  Ultimately most service departments have been stretched so thin, that they do not have the resources available.  The most interesting part to Customer Service is they are most qualified for having conversations with Customers.  It is what they do best.

Let’s face facts, social media is a very small part of the overall equation.  Over the past 25 years, at least until the economic meltdown, driving stock price was all about growth, growth growth.  Sales was the name of the game and the overall focus for most companies.  This is what lead to the position of Chief Marketing Officer.  Besides growth, the other key component to pleasing Wall Street was adding efficiencies to the organization. New technologies, gaining more work out of each employee have been key measures of success.  This led to the Chief Information Officer position.  It was a General Electric and Jack Welch world.  Companies did everything they could to meet these demands.

I wondered what the leadership teams of most companies looked like, so I took the time to visit the website for the top 50 companies in the Fortune 500.   Most of it was not surprising, I found Chief Executive Officer, President, Chief Financial Officer, General Counsel, Investor Relations.  You also found Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Information Officer, Human Resources, Public Relations, auditors, compliance and leaders for the most important products for the company.  For retail stores there were Chief Merchandising Officers, and representatives for store operations.  Some can make the case that many of these different positions can easily represent the Customer, but in my opinion they each have competing priorities.  Out of the 50 I reviewed, only 1 had a Chief Customer Officer.  This was Mark Rosenbaum from Cardinal Health.  The most amazing part of this role within Cardinal Health, is it did not start from a top down approach.  Instead a grass root effort to change the culture of the company.  Congrats to Cardinal Health for leading the way!

I completely understand the financial focus of executive leadership teams.  Ultimately companies are in business to make money and that is a key.  I also understand why all the other groups are represented.  What shocks me is the structure that companies have with their senior leadership team sends a message to Customers that they do not care about Customer interests.  I know this is not true, but when you look at these teams and you see many financial people. attorneys, marketing but when you put on your Customer hat, you do not feel your interests are being represented.  You can easily review it yourself by going to a company website, locate the leadership team and see the different positions listed.

I have spoken before about the power of the Customer story to senior leaders.  I have yet to meet a senior executive at any company that intended to create a poor experience for any Customer.  As companies grew, the executive leadership moved further and further from the Customer.  Unlike the days of smaller companies, the senior staff does not sit near the front lines.  In the spirit of cost and efficiency, today many of the front line employees do not work directly for the company (I am not against outsourcing, but I do believe you have to make sure a true connection exists between the front line and leadership).  Most changes within the company have been done in a manner that is like a pass it down the lane.  This caused many different interpretations and actions.  The other trouble is people typically did not share upward trouble that new changes caused.  It is about time that someone did just that.  Through social media, employees and Customers are starting to do that.  As we enter this new age where the cost of retaining Customers will be far cheaper than trying to gain new ones, it is time for the Chief Customer Officer.  In my opinion it represents the convergence of marketing, PR and Customer Service and the focus companies will need over the next 10 years and beyond.  This is how you build the right reputation, not PR or marketing.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.