There has been much talk in recent years about a C-Suite role for head of customer experience, or CCO — Chief Customer Officer. Even B2B brands, which traditionally focuses on sales rather than organic customer growth, are starting to adopt this head of customer experience role in droves.
But how does someone become a head of customer experience? What makes them ideally qualified for the role?
Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 1: They have led a successful operation
Customer Experience is the company’s operational and behavioral delivery of the brand promise. As a result, the most successful and respected CX leaders, have first run a successful operation before assuming the role. This typically involves leading operational change, nurturing and developing employees, and hitting operational targets and metrics that improve the company. Everything, of course, is through the lens of total customer focus.
Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 2: They build collaborative partnerships
Think of this in terms of Tom Sawyer: you want to get other leaders to ‘paint the fence.’ You are basically the facilitator for uniting the organization to see things differently and act differently to deliver a one-company customer experience. This means engaging and collaborating with others as opportunities are identified and solutions are developed. Some CX leaders do this work in a vacuum – reviewing data, identifying problems and then presenting. This makes this role appear as one of creating solutions and pitching for approval. The role is NOT that. The most successful CX leaders I’ve worked with identify opportunities and build solutions many. They enable real collaboration to occur. That’s the only path to sustainable organizational, leadership, and cultural change. You need to engage with other leaders and treat them as partners, not people whose approval and advocacy you’re pitching for.
In my book Chief Customer Officer 2.0, I wrote about my experiences with Heather Carroll Cox, who then held the title of Chief Client Experience, Digital and Marketing Officer at Citi. Heather told me in the book that investing in relationships was always her “number-one priority” to make this type of head of customer experience/CCO work successful. “Without it,” she said, “you are a CCO standing on an island by yourself submitting reports and hoping people will pay attention.”
Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 3: They check their ego at the door
I’ve had to help a few CX leaders out of their roles because they showed up too much of the time as making the work about them, and what they’ve accomplished. That looks like a power play, which can threaten other C-Suite leaders; that’s hardly the path to collaboration discussed above. A head of customer experience role, when successful, creates circumstances where other people have the big ideas and present the successes. They create the learning and unite people to come together to see these apparent changes — and then support in the achievement of them. When a CX leader can step out of the spotlight, they actually become more indispensable. But in the traditional world of silo metrics and performance, this can be counter-intuitive to many.
Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 4: They have earned C-Suite authority
The head of customer experience must present as a seasoned, balanced and comprehensive thinker. Leading up to advancing to the role, they must be able to focus on priorities, present succinctly, and wrap in storytelling that resonates with how the C-Suite learns. They must be able to engage with authority, often shedding their silo or personal accountability to express what is needed for the greater good of the company to grow. They must be able to attach the work to the bottom line of business growth. They must show up and present as strategic. They are able to present road maps and show growth. One crucial element of a good head of customer experience is not getting down in the weeds on minute details of every project; leave that to your team. You need to be functioning at the highest level of presentation and context possible, not line-editing e-mail marketing campaigns.
Head of Customer Experience Trait No. 5: They ascend to the role from inside the organization
In my work, and in conversations with other esteemed colleagues working with C-Suite head of customer experience executives, we are all experiencing a common circumstance: there is a good deal of internal promotion for this role. They seek outside help to coach them on the ascension to the role and to help them execute, but it is their core relationships and proven operational context for the business that helps to make them a success. My most successful coaching to head of customer experience or CCO roles is with those who have led successfully, are honored as respected peers, check their egos at the door and lead strategically to drive change.
There is a deliberate path to what the role entails and actions to take, but these are very coachable actions once the other conditions exist.