Customer experience is a central theme at VentureBeat’s Marketing.FWD Summit on February 22 in New York. Register now to hear top marketing executives from Starwood, American Express discuss their customer-first initiatives.

Has customer experience become too much of a focus? Before you call for my head for uttering marketing blasphemy, hear me out.

For the record, I do not believe that there can ever be such a thing as too much focus on customer experience – from a practical application side of things, that is.

Of course, the focus should always be on the customer and their, well, experience with your brand. That should never be questioned.

However, after reading a recent Gartner report, I was inspired by one finding, in particular: “Last year we told you customer experience is the new competitive battlefield. Rest assured, it still is. Yet it often lacks a single owner or sponsor within an organization.”

And near the bottom, this: “Because it touches many different disciplines, it’s probable that customer experience spending is also implied in other categories.”

Too Many Cooks

Translation: There are too many cooks in the customer experience (CX) kitchen. It has become such a focus across entire organizations that a great number of marketers are taking it upon themselves to be the CX champion.

The problem with this is the likelihood that a certain four-letter word rears its ugly head: Silo. And we all know that silos are the death knell of a brand or organization. Period.

Look, I believe that marketers who are championing the customer experience are doing so with the best of intentions: to serve the customer. The issue, however, is the lack of a single owner or sponsor within an organization. 

The Case For One Cook

This past December, Natalie Petouhoff, vice president and principal analyst for Constellation Research, released the findings of research she conducted on the topic of the customer experience and who should lead it. Entitled “Should the Chief Marketing Officer Oversee the Whole Customer Experience?,” the report examines the need for a senior executive to lead the end-to-end customer experience.


Petouhoff writes: “With the confluence of digital and social media and the importance of marketing for corporate success, the role of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is even more critical than ever before. However, with changes in how customers communicate with each other and with companies, the need for a fundamental transformation of the CMO role is critical if the CMO is to lead the overall customer experience.”

And I, for one, wholeheartedly believe the CMO should lead the overall customer experience.

As Macys CMO Martine Reardon recently described the customer experience: “[It’s] about being an experiential brand – we’re not trying to sell you a product, we’re trying to sell you an experience. The younger crowd really demands that experience – we’re seeing the trend of combining the experience with the product. This is back to the early days of retail – it’s being fun and entertaining and theater for the consumer.”

I have never met Martine, but I can tell she “gets it.”

Then there is someone whom I have met, Denny Post, the CMO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. Denny is another CMO who gets it. In the Petouhoff-penned report, Post identifies the five key factors needed for the successful implementation and maintenance of customer experience.

  1. Alignment at the top to drive priority focus
  2. Metrics and methods to measure progress
  3. Training tools and emphasis led by general managers who love to coach
  4. Celebrating and elevating great guest experiences
  5. CMOs making the connection through to the guest

Caution: Hot Stove

There are risks, says Petouhoff, when it comes to CMOs taking the reins of the customer experience. CMOs who want to take on this role should heed these warnings so as to not get burned. (Get it? Cook. Burned. Oh, never mind.)

  1. Jealously and politics among colleagues. Often, jealous colleagues will “play along” with your leadership but secretly sabotage your efforts. If you take on this role, one of the best practices in organizational change management is to spend the time to get to know each of the executives who plays a part in making customer experience superb.
  2. Lack of organizational readiness. It’s highly recommended that you take an organizational readiness assessment at all levels to determine the degree of organizational change that will be required to execute an exceptional customer experience program.
  3. Lack of skill sets in functional departments. Mapping out the customer’s journey is also important, and includes determining what the touch points are for each target customer group and which front and back office departments contribute to them.
  4. The amount of change the organization has to go through. If the degree of change is very high, then it may be necessary to allocate external resources to help support those changes. This is especially true if employees are required to learn new processes and technologies.
  5. CEOs and board members who do not understand the importance of customer experience. To succeed in the customer experience management role, it is important to have full backing from the CEO and board members on all decision-making, as well as ample resources in terms of staff, budget, and technology. Projects without this level of support will be doomed to fail.

The bottom line: Delivering the optimal experience to the customer each and every time should be the top priority for every single marketer. Yet, according to Gartner,  “Last year, customer experience was ranked 1st. This year, it is the 4th overall priority.”

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