The CXO Comes of Age

Patricia Camden

Back when digital was first starting to impact business, and companies were beginning to see value in leveraging their website as a channel, many digital agencies and brands touted the idea of a Chief Experience Officer (CXO) or Chief Customer Officer. While some companies got traction with the role in these early days, for the most part, it was just a trend that fizzled out along with Flash and MySpace. A 2006 article in The New York Times[1] about “unconventional” and “wacky” titles created by Madison Avenue mentioned the Chief Experience Officer title as one that was primarily window dressing rather than a substantial role with critical importance to an organization’s growth. But, an evolution in the role was coming.

Jump ahead a few years, add in some important digital milestones, such as smartphones and social platforms, and the story changed. Digital empowered customers to have a direct voice and relationship with brands. Not only could customers begin to buy direct, they could express and amplify their feelings about products and brand experiences. Additionally, all this new digital “stuff” provided a wealth of data that could be used to learn more about the customer and impact many things about how brands develop products, market, and serve customers.

As the “Age of the Customer” began to drive necessary changes in the business, many organizations spun up work streams and projects designed to optimize processes and channels that touch customers — a mobile app initiative here, a loyalty program there, an in-store kiosk somewhere else. Unfortunately, the vast majority of initiatives were developed in organizational silos without the benefit of an overarching strategy, shared development plans, or common success metrics. In fact, in many organizations today, this is still the case.

Today, brands have increasingly direct access to customers across multiple channels, a fire hose of customer data to make sense of, and powerful tools to enable the creation of meaningful and personal experiences across every part of the customer journey. But these opportunities cannot be addressed by using the same heavily siloed and functionally-driven teams of the past. This approach can only yield fragmented and inconsistent experiences that lack optimization for the individual customer/segment, chaotic workplaces where work is developed without a view of how it impacts and fits into the end-to-end customer experience, and disenfranchised employees who are missing an overarching strategy to guide their decisions.

Truthfully, there is no silver bullet that will allow an organization to be instantly and completely customer-focused. Successfully solving challenges and meeting opportunities requires hard work with cross-functional teams in strategy, governance, organizational design, and change management. A critical first step is to have someone senior in the organization that is charged with driving this critical change.

Based on our work helping organizations of all types become more customer-focused, we believe there are four key themes or areas of responsibility for today’s CXO/CCO.

1. Executive Level Representation of CX

While several roles at the senior levels of most companies are charged with considering the customer (such as marketing and sales), these roles typically do so from an internal lens, with the customer as a target. An effective CXO will truly embody the very essence of an organization’s customers— and own the voice of the customer. In essence, the CXO becomes the Chief Storyteller with the customer as the subject of the story. Having true customer representation as strategic decisions are discussed and made at the executive level helps ensure customer needs are at the forefront. It is important to remember, however, that the CXO cannot function in a vacuum. Other executives across the organization that own pieces of the customer journey must understand both how to work with the CXO and their own role in customer experience.

We once handled a project working with a large, global organization where the customer experience really was their product. Our work was to create the global CRM strategy for the organization. Across the 40+ senior level discovery interviews, not one executive had a good answer to the question: “Who owns the voice of the customer?” Around half of the executives responded that they personally owned the voice of the customer, and the other half said that no one owned it. It should be no surprise that we uncovered many examples of fragmented, redundant, and broken customer experiences that resulted from the lack of a single owner across the customer journey.

2. End-to End Ownership

The Customer Experience is not limited to a single interaction or channel. It begins from the first time a consumer becomes aware the brand and continues throughout the usage lifecycle until the customer no longer uses the product or service. A true CXO will have a responsibility beyond the call center, website, or in store experience — as well as every single touchpoint a customer has with the brand. This includes ensuring each experience is relevant to the customer, or customer segment, and that it is consistent across channels. Along with this, probably one of the most important responsibilities of today’s CXO is to bring together functional leads from across all departments that impact the customer journey, and ensure that challenges and opportunities along that journey are tackled from the lens of how the customer experiences the brand — and not how each functional area interprets the customer impact based on their functional responsibility.

3. The Glue Between Departments

In addition to being the lead Voice of the Customer and having end-to-end ownership, the CXO should act as the glue between departments, simplifying how departments work together, socializing critical metrics, and driving cross-functional thinking that is focused on solving customer pain points, and optimizing critical moments of truth, regardless of what internal structure supports that experience.

We recently completed some work helping a local company map its end-to-end customer journey. Bringing together 50+ cross-functional employees across several work sessions, it was eye opening for their employees to help dissect each interaction point along the journey. We heard time and time again comments such as, “I had no idea that the customer had to go through this many steps,” and, “Wow, I did not realize that when I did this step, it eventually impacts the customer this way downstream.” It was powerful stuff. Through facilitating this cross-functional, end-to-end view of the customer, we were able to problem solve and even prototype solutions to address problems that may have been lost between silos. The CXO, with a focus on that end-to-end view, becomes the de facto organizational silo buster.

4. Rising All Boats

The CXO is a critical leader of CX education, and the resulting culture shift, internally. Part evangelist and part architect, an effective CXO will lead efforts to infuse the customer into the organizational culture through any number of initiatives designed to continually surface the customer and their behaviors, as well as metrics/KPIs, success stories, and more. Over time, the goal is to shift an organization from being reactive to customers to being proactive, so they are continually ahead of the curve and offering new features/services before a customer even realizes they have a need.

Given the critical nature of these responsibilities and the impact they can have on an organization’s growth and profitability, it is no surprise that more and more companies are once again hiring Chief Experience Officers. Unlike the “wacky” and “unconventional” perception of the role of ten years ago, we now have the data, technologies, and tools to make the role one that can and should have real business impact. From healthcare to CPG to financial services to hospitality, companies are recognizing that having executive level representation of the customer inside the organization can deliver powerful results.

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[1] Elliott, Stuart (13 September 2006). “Wanted: Experience Officer. Some Necessary.”. The New York Times. Retrieved 17 August 2017.