The customer always comes first. It’s a saying companies throw around a lot, but they rarely live and breathe it the way they should. It can be easy to forget what’s most important when you’re juggling finances, logistics, investors, and beyond. But there’s a way to keep your customer top of mind no matter what: Make an addition to your C-Suite by empowering a chief customer officer.
It’s a move many of America’s largest companies have made over the last couple of years, driven by the need to differentiate. To boil it down, the chief customer officer (CCO) serves as a top executive with the responsibility of designing, orchestrating, and improving customer experience in a way that impacts all levels of your brand. Progressive companies across a range of industries — from Dunkin Donuts to PNC Bank — have empowered CCOs to build an organization that puts the customer first. At its core, this means dedicating your business to ensuring the voice of the customer is heard and acted upon across the organization.
In an era of heightened customer expectations — in which every customer is also a broadcaster — having a CCO is essential. As with any new role within your company, it’s important to establish responsibilities for your CCO and empower them to hit the ground running.
Here are the top five responsibilities your chief customer officer should take on:
1. Establish a clear vision for customer experience
First and foremost, your CCO will be responsible for establishing a clear vision for customer experience. Striving for great customer experiences isn’t enough anymore. It’s too vague, says little about your company and, counter-intuitively, often leads to muddled, less than great experiences. Your CCO will be able to unpack what great customer experiences actually look like for your business, establishing an authentic company voice and setting clear standards for engaging with customers.
With an understanding of what customer experience looks like for your particular brand, your CCO should set aspirational goals and a roadmap to execute against.
2. Pick an organizational model that can be successful in your business
There are three types of organizational models that businesses typically put in place to support the CCO. In the first model, the CCO directly manages the people, programs, and budget for all customer-focused initiatives. In the second model, the CCO is an evangelist/change agent within the company and makes changes through influence and alliance with teams, particularly when it comes to budget and program authority. The third model is a hybrid of the first two, with the CCO being part of a function (typically marketing or operations) but working across a wider range of teams.
Any of the above models can be successful, depending on how they are implemented. The key is for the CCO to show enterprise results in the areas of loyalty, satisfaction, and profitability.
3. Give customers a voice in all company initiatives
For employees that don’t engage with customers on a regular basis, it can be difficult to grasp how customer feedback plays a role in everything from daily tasks to large projects. But the truth is, customer experience should be top of mind for all departments — from finance and billing to marketing and sales. That’s where your chief customer officer comes in.
CCOs can come from different walks of life — there is no specific career path that CCOs need to have followed to be successful. Many come from an operational background, often earlier in their careers, working in customer-facing roles in sales, support, or regional operational management roles. Others come from marketing and/or insights roles, helping companies qualify and quantify the voice of the customer.
Whoever takes on the role of chief customer officer should be prepared to bring customer feedback to the table, prioritizing initiatives to improve the customer experience, and clearly explaining how customer insights relate to each individual department. Your CCO should aggregate insights from multiple sources — social platforms, call centers, forums — to create a comprehensive overview of customer feedback and how each department impacts those statistics.
Once each department has a clear understanding of its role in customer experience, your CCO should work with each department on initiatives and act as a customer representative in all matters. Ultimately, the CCO is responsible for driving a new way of thinking from the C-suite to the frontline and back-office employees, always giving the customer a seat at the table for every new initiative.
4. Be proactive
It is the responsibility of the chief customer officer to bring a proactive approach to customer experience management. CCOs need to help their teams get in front of issues by instating simple guidelines for engaging with customers. With a CCO in your arsenal and a broader customer experience management team to back them up, your team will be able to proactively communicate with customers about new products, policies, and processes.
Service recovery should be less of a priority as customer insights are used to create and innovate better solutions before they cause issues. In other words, your CCO will be able to mitigate potential issues before they arise by incorporating customer feedback at all levels of business.
5. Share results with the entire company
Most importantly, the chief customer officer is responsible for educating their peers and the rest of the organization on the value of being a customer-centric company. As your CCO and customer engagement management team bring their customer experience roadmap to life, they’ll share successes, failures, and everything in between. It’s important that the entire company have a clear understanding of what the CCO hopes to accomplish and that updates on progress are given on a regular basis. Seeing is believing, which is why the CCO will need to share insights and achievements as often as possible.
With such an increased focus on customer experience, the CCO role will likely become more and more common. In the meantime, early adopters — those who truly understand the importance and power of the customer — will lead the charge in shaping this new C-suite role and will, no doubt, have a leg up on the competition.
Sid Banerjee is executive chairman of Clarabridge.
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