Business

The evolution of the chief customer officer — and 3 reasons you don’t need one, yet

Neil Parker is VP of product marketing at Vision Critical.

“The Chief Customer Officer is a powerful asset that can help resolve chronic customer issues, create sustainable competitive advantage, help retain profitable customers, and drive profitable customer behavior through the effective customer strategy…Creating the role is a serious undertaking and executives must be firmly committed to supporting the role vocally and visibly to ensure the CCO has the authority and credibility that is necessary for success.” – Chief Customer Officer Council

In 2011, Forrester boldly called the era we’re in the age of the customer, a time when focus on the customer matters more than ever before. In this era, Forrester argues that companies need to start treating customer experience as a business discipline instead of a cliché.

The age of the customer has rightfully put the spotlight on the buyer experience—and ultimately the arrival of the chief customer officer.

The role of CCO (which also sometimes stands for chief client officer) has been around for some time, and originally grew organically out of frustrations with organizations who realized no one person in the organization owned the end-to-end customer experience. In most organizations, multiple departments share the responsibility for customer experience. Marketing, sales, professional services, account managers, customer support, training, legal, and accounting are just some of the departments that have some touch points with customers.

During the Gartner Customer 360 Summit this year, it was revealed that there are more than 2,000 companies who have a chief customer officer now.  This number is growing, but it’s a small number in comparison to other C-suite roles.

You may wonder – does your company need a CCO? In my opinion, CEOs thinking of adding this role might want to pause and think about the following challenges.

1) The role is still poorly defined.

As a relatively new position in many companies, the CCO’s day-to-day tasks are broad—and also very vague.

The CCO responsibilities typically include customer service, customer acquisition and retention, and most importantly, customer advocacy.  While many organizations have a customer reference program, customer advisory councils and customer retention programs, customer advocacy is often sorely lacking.

CCOs centralize the ownership of the customer relationship; they ensure long-term value is created in the relationship between the brand and the customer: a two-way street benefiting both parties.

Essentially, the CCO is expected to form deep personal relationships with the company’s customers to truly understand them. This broad description sometimes discourages companies from hiring a CCO.

2) CCOs are difficult to find and difficult to keep

CCOs need to have depth in various practices across the organization—a leadership characteristic that isn’t easy to find.  CCOs typically bring marketing, sales, distribution, customer service and support experience to their role.

Because of the depth of expertise required for the position, bringing a CCO from outside the organization isn’t easy. In fact, 55 percent of CCOs are internal hires with a median time at their firms of more than seven years.

Successful CCOs orchestrate organization-wide change, a difficult task that requires collaborating with a wide range of employees and partners in the company.  This shift in culture requires leadership skills, but also influence and trust.

With an average tenure of only 26 months, the CCO role is the most fragile in the c-suite. As the Chief Customer Officer Council notes, many new CCOs are relatively new at their jobs. The CCO’s role is stressful with an extreme scope and a massive potential for error and scrutiny. Picking the right person for the job is no easy task.

3) The need for CCOs signals deeper issues

Before hiring a CCO, a logical question from the CEO is this: why do I need one in the first place? Is it because our culture has forgotten the importance of the customer? Is it because the voice of the customer is silenced in our internal meetings, or given mere lip service?

If your executives and rank and file are so separated from the values of—and the voice of—your customers, you may have a systemic problem. Without addressing these tough issues first, hiring a CCO is nothing but a Band-Aid solution.

Before adding a CCO to your team, it is worthwhile to get a holistic view of your business. Are you building a customer-centric organization from the top down? Are you listening to your customers on social media? Are your customer touch points being recorded, measured and improved? Are you measuring the right things to determine how consumers perceive your brand? Do you have a community of customers who will honestly tell you when things aren’t working?

The transition to a truly customer-centric organization is no easy task. While adding a CCO to your team is a good way to drive change, it shouldn’t be an attempt to result your organization’s complete failure to serve customers well. If you’d like to learn more about this role, I recommend Chief Customer Officer by Jeannie Bliss, a book she wrote based on her 25-year experience as a CCO.

Happy customers art via Shutterstock

Neil-Parker-headshotNeil Parker is VP of product marketing at Vision Critical. He’s enjoyed the last 17 years of his career in Product Management and Marketing, including senior roles at Glenayre (paging infrastructure), Infowave (wireless software), Sierra Wireless (mobile devices and software), and most recently, Contigo Systems (wireless location-based services). He has held a variety of leadership roles, and has managed product, engineering, customer service and sales teams. Neil has enjoyed bringing customer-ready solutions to market for wireless network operators, infrastructure manufacturers, enterprises, and consumers alike.


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