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So What is a Chief Customer Officer? More than a Title!

Posted on : 15-01-2011 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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I have heard debate over the years about the Chief Customer Officer role.  Some have debate whether it should be that, or Chief Culture Officer, or Chief Ethics Officer or many other names.  In my mind it does not matter what you call it, but there is a change going on in business that is driving this.  This change is impacting employee relations and the overall Customer experience.  Right now there are many hot terms in business.  A few years back Apple and other tech companies inspired other businesses to look closely at innovation.  Prior to that the other areas were Centers of Excellence, which we still hear mentioned in relation to Social Media.  In the 1990′s many companies were embracing things like Six Sigma, and university style centers for employee education.  In my mind the next hot focus will be Chief Customer Officer.  Let me explain why.

Since invention of radio, and the implementation of one way marketing that we are used to today, Customers and prospective Customers were told by the companies which products were the right ones for them.  In the 1950′s and 1960′s marketers truly honed their skills and success was very easy with the right marketing campaign.  Today marketing is still an imperative aspect of business, but its effectiveness in selling is more limited than ever.  With DVR’s, many commercial are not seen by many as they fast forward through it.  Since I do not receive much mail anymore, I tend to throw out the junk mail without even looking.  There has been some success with product placement in TV and movies, but lets face facts, this is limited in opportunities to be effective.  If a show or movie becomes an infomercial, I have many other choices to change to.  Online ads can have some success but again, I have other choices of websites for virtually anything, so if I want I can easily ignore them as well.  There are many who believe the key is enticing influencers to speak about their products, but my opinion is an influencer uses the influence to tout products, they can easily lose their influence.  Everything is a balance.  Now do not get me wrong, I still believe marketing is an important aspect to business, and will remain that way.  But the key is how do you best reach and expand your Customer base in this new environment?

Before we answer that question, we should then look at other changes in Customer behavior.  Today we trust opinions of our friends and online networks we have built over the years.  We even trust anonymous opinions posted on review websites like Amazon and Best Buy.  As you review ratings you will see there are a few key aspects to the review.  First is the product itself.  It must meet the Customers need, and the best is if it meets an unexpected need.  If you really look at Apple over the past 10 years, it has had more to do with meeting an unexpected need in needs designed for the user.  Apple introduced the iPod and iTunes and today they are the leader is music sales.  Since that introduction they moved on to the iPhone.  The iPhone was entering markets with existing phones that were well liked, such as the Blackberry.  They did it differently, focusing on the screen and user experience.  Although many still like a real keyboard, their design and the apps, which have easy access, make it easy to forget the missing keyboard.  The next interesting thing was the iPad.  Tablet computers have been around for a while, but there was no success until the iPad.  Why?  Well unlike others, they focused on the user experience and not requiring a pointer of some sort.  They also concentrated on making it thin and easily usable by the everyday person.  Customers do want to be wowed by the user experience!

Many developers and engineers love to focus on building cool things, but they sometimes focus on their personal needs or the ‘cool’ factor and not the end user experience.  We have seen this often with websites that have every new widget under the sun, yet you can not find what you want.  These artist are then so excited by what they created, they are not always successful in listening to the feedback of others, especially Customers.

There are many other aspects to the Customer relationship that have impact.  One key aspect is trust.  Some might say marketing has impacted trust, but I think that would have been minimal.  I think larger impacts have been companies in the news.  For all the good things companies have done, the news, and what we tend to focus on is more negative.  Enron I am sure helped add to this distrust.  BP is an easy example.  Government bailouts, and a ton of bankruptcies have impact on how we feel about the business world.  I also think outrageous pay and discussions regarding lack of disclosure also impact our trust of business.  I thought about stating how trust comes from individuals, not logos, but there are companies who have had, or still do have, a strong trust quotient.

Finally since the inception of Customer Service, most companies have not fully embraced the benefits of this, or at least felt sales were more important than the experience of existing Customers.  Now this did not matter as much when Customers would tell a few friends, but now they can easily tell millions.  I have known many CEO’s and I have not known any who wanted their Customers to have a bad experience.  The challenge has been internally people have not always shared the truth regarding the experience, and service leaders were not always good at sharing the negative upward.  This is what makes the show ‘Undercover Boss’ so amusing, since part of the formula usually is to show a negative experience, with the CEO acting shocked by it.  We also relate to the show because we feel most CEO’s are not in touch with the Customers or employee experience.

Sorry for the long winded explanation, but these are the parts adding to this role.  Now I should be clear that Chief Customer Officer is not a new role, and many smart companies, mainly technology firms have had it for a few years.  Social media, and this changing Customer will force companies to have this more often.  The Chief Customer Officer Council (yes, there is one), has a great post explaining the role.  Here is a link, but I will provide a few quick quotes:

“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 CCO must be the ultimate authority on customers, understanding customers better than any other individual in the company and perhaps better than some customers may even understand themselves.”

There are other key components such as advising the senior leadership regarding the Customer and creating a strategic plan to drive this focus through the organization.  I want to be clear, this is not necessarily the service leader, and in some cases this person may not have direct authority over the service world.  I view the role as a necessary balance to chief financial officers, general counsel and others who make high level decisions that have direct impact on the Customer experience.  Unfortunately many times decisions are made in these silos, and as the message works it way down, there is a direct, unexpected impact to the Customer.  As an example scripting came about in call centers for a variety of reasons.  The most common cited is the misguided belief that it creates a consistent experience.  Actually it may do that, but usually it is a consistent bad experience.  Actually the main reason it started was a means to limited liability and ensure regulatory compliance, and then morphed as companies outsourced service and looked to cut costs.

I have spoken to many senior leaders in varying industries.  Some see the need, while others consider it a joke.  The challenge to the business world and business leaders is they, just like each of us, work more off their own history and what they learned.  Most when asked think their Customers do have great experiences, but as we know, most Customers feel differently.  For the past few years, I have heard companies talk about improving the Customer experience.  Only time will tell if this is just talk, because change can take time.  I see this becoming the trend, but I hope to see it be more than just words to add confidence, but a true shift in the advisors to the CEO.  Some CEO’s have even added this to their title, but if they truly are looking to do this, then they must take the focus of the definition above and ensure it is reality through every Customer touchpoint.