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It’s all about taking care of the customer.

That theme resonated through two onstage chats Monday afternoon at VentureBeat’s GrowthBeat 2015 conference in San Francisco.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) chief customer officer Laurie Giammona proudly told of all the customer-oriented efforts undertaken by her utility company.

It sounded more like an anxious-to-please new age health company. She recalled, for instance, that customer teams interfaced with town residents in Napa, California after a large earthquake a year ago, to make sure people knew what restorative efforts were underway.

PG&E provides customer training across departments, and Giammona talked about a company-wide effort to instill empathy for the actual people whose lives the company touches.

The company also made 15 percent of its bonus structure dependent on improving customer experience, and it overhauled its customer contract center.

The key task, she said, is helping employees “know there’s a customer behind everything they do.”

The driver behind this customer-ness is that any Net-connected person has so many alternatives these days, even for electricity. So, a major utility company — formerly the archetypal example of an out-of-touch semi-monopoly — has to make customer experience (read: customer happiness) their chief concern.

The number one responsibility of the chief marketing officer, echoed executive search consultant Deborah Op den Kamp from search firm Spencer Stuart, is to “know the customer.”

executive search consultant Deborah Op den Kamp from search firm Spender Stuart

Above: executive search consultant Deborah Op den Kamp from search firm Spender Stuart

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat

She told of “one of my favorite CMOs,” an unnamed executive who made the transition from a top marketer at a high-tech company to a similar role at a pharmaceutical. One of the first things this exec did was attend a variety of patient meetings and other events to learn about the people she was selling to.

Op den Kamp also noted that the modern CMO needs to have a dual focus — on both the brand identity and on performance marketing, where sales and return-on-investment are tied by data to marketing and ads.

“The days of not knowing which half of your budget is effective is over,” she pointed out.

This dual focus is a challenge, she noted, since many marketing professionals have been oriented toward one or the other areas. It’s a key reason why she emphasized that CMOs also need to “be curious [and remain] a lifelong learner” to keep up with all the ways that brand identity and performance marketing continue to evolve.

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