3 Actions to Avoid the “Beggar” Trap for Chief Customer Officers

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As the Chief Customer Officer or Customer Experience Leadership role becomes more prevalent, people in these roles run the risk of being put in them prematurely, without ensuring conditions are ideal for success in the role.

When this occurs, this executive role that should be uniting the C-Suite to lead and grow the business differently instead finds themselves in a role where they inadvertently have the monkey on their back to fix the company. Instead of bringing the leadership team together to change leadership behavior and the conditions for business success, they are asked to “pitch” projects, present ideas and report on results.

And this moves the CCO from strategic leader… to beggar.

When the Chief Customer Officer role is one that only garners the attention of the leadership team in what I call “situational commitment” — they are always in a position of asking for commitment, of asking for time on the agenda. Many CX leaders find that these roles become something to report out progress on, or get commitment for… but fellow members of the C-Suite’s skin in the game and personal actions for driving change don’t go outside the boundaries of the meetings where they are pitched and presented. If you have ever had to ask (implore) fellow leaders to please attend your meeting, please provide resources, or please participate in key improvement actions…you’ve lived this situation. This experience of being a beggar. And that diminishes this role.

Here are three actions to ensure that the Chief Customer Officer performs at an equal level of the rest of the C-Suite and is considered a peer and a partner in driving customer-driven change and business growth:

1. Set the Conditions for C-suite involvement. Ideally before you take the role this should be done, but you can also course-correct. These conditions are that the CCO or CX Executive role exists to facilitate the C-Suite to work together in changing how the company makes decisions, grows the business, develops products, and enables people in the company to deliver value. The role of the CCO is not to do the work and report back. This effort must be done in unison with the C-Suite taking an active role.

2. Level Set So All Leaders Know the Work Ahead, and Silo Busting Occurs. This work unravels because every leader in the C-Suite has a different opinion on how far the company is in customer experience, or how “good” the experience is — often based on their point of view from within the silo that they are responsible for. While you will have leaders’ attention and agreement as you are meeting as a team, without level setting, each will then go back to their own operating area and guide their operation separately. You must align leaders that the work at hand is to unite to deliver a one-company reliable experience. This means that the C- Suite must band together to provide resources to solve for and improve complete customer experiences. Create clarity that your role as the CCO is to give that prospective and understanding so that as a leadership team you can make united decisions on areas of priority, focus and how you will work together to provide resources to make improvements.

I suggest an exercise to unite the C-Suite where you name the stages of your customer journey and rate the reliability of the experience by stage from a one-company standpoint for each stage. Is it always reliable, sometimes reliable, or rarely reliable that a one-compnay consistent experience is delivered in each stage? Most of my clients have a real ‘aha’ moment when leaders as a collective leadership team rate and realize that the experience being delivered is ‘rarely’ or ‘sometimes’ reliable for every stage. This clarifies the work ahead, and puts more clarity on your role as uniting them and their teams – moving you further from being a beggar to hear what you have to report — to that of an enabler, facilitator and developer of repeating organizationals CX competencies.

3. Assign Leaders in Your C-suite Accountability for Specific Actions. In the work that I do with the C-Suite we work to embed five competencies into the business operation and leadership behavior. The old “beggar” model for the CCO would be for the CCO to build a team and do the work and present intermittently on the progress. We abandoned that approach about five years ago with astounding results. Instead, we now assign a couple members of the C-Suite and a small working group of high potential employees to build out the “beta” version of each of the five competencies to get the company to their first customer room, usually within 4-6 months. Now leaders are personally involved. They are not recipients of the report-out by the CCO, but rather, active participants in the work.

As a result of these actions, you can take the role of the CCO or CX leader from the inadvertent “beggar” situation that this role sometimes falls into, to elevating it to its rightful place as facilitator of the C-Suite to changing behaviors to earn the right to customer-driven growth.

What has your experience been as a CX leader or CCO? Can you relate?

5 COMMENTS

  1. A very thoughtful piece, Jeanne. And, the “beggar” label is so fitting for those who are not convinced they are on par with other “C” suite residents and/or the “C” suite views of the CCO as mere window dressing. Too often the “C” suite’s addition of a CCO to their ranks is only a token acknowledgement of the importance of the customer–more for optics than substance. Your recommendations to bring clear expectations and ensure C-suite accountability are crucial to the CCO becoming more than a role or title but rather a steward of a vital component of organizational success as much as the CFO is to the balance sheet of the enterprise.

  2. So when was the first CCO installed at a company? I just checked my old college textbook, Basic Marketing, by E. Jerome McCarthy, and didn’t see any references. There wasn’t one for CMO, either. Amazing that no one seems to have invented those roles for the corporate org chart back when my book was printed in . . . Gad! . . . 1975!

    How far we’ve come since then. And it’s amazing how many Chief-somethings have been coined (I wrote about this in a CustomerThink article, “Are Companies Hiring too Many Chiefs?”). Like you point out, the challenge is how to integrate all these new senior roles du jour – ‘Customer’, ‘Revenue’, ‘Compliance’, ‘Strategy’, ‘Development’, ‘Digital’, ‘Talent’, etc. – when fiefdoms and territories have been staked out.

    For newbie C-something-O’s, sharp elbows are the most important characteristic for success. Anything a CCO does takes out of someone else’s job-description rice bowl. That includes Operations, Marketing, Sales, and Technology. That doesn’t inspire good teamwork. It usually creates friction, infighting, backstabbing, and passive-aggressive behavior. “Welcome to the executive suite! Here are your goals. First, keep everyone happy . . .”

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. A CCO needs context. He or she must fit into a corporate strategy, not shoehorned into an org chart (been there, done that – I was an ‘IT Manager’ in the very early days of IT.)

    And that’s where senior management lays the groundwork. In many (not all) companies, there are green field opportunities for CCO’s – stuff that vitally needs to get done that isn’t getting done. The CEO must integrate the CCO into the organization by articulating business strategy to other senior executives, and then explaining why there must be not only a dedicated resource for customer-related matters, but specialized knowledge, as well. If that can’t be done, well, who wants to sign up for CCO . . . anyone . . .?

  3. Invaluable insight Jeanne! You make some great points Andrew, but any organization where it takes “sharp elbows” to make it to the table has some serious leadership dysfunction that starts at the very top. I think this is one of the preconditions Jeanne is talking about that must be addressed for the CCO role to be successful. If takes sharp elbows, it’s probably best to walk (maybe run) away.

  4. Don thanks for jumping in on this conversation. Your point is well made. When there are cultural issues such as the “sharp elbows” description, we find that this needs to be addressed. This health audit is not something that is done all the time. And it will always stall or impede the work.

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