As the CCO role has become more common, now we’re starting to see “serial” CCOs. Carol Pudnos is one of those. She spent 27 years in different leadership roles at Dow Corning, ultimately becoming the Vice President of Customer Experience and Customer Service. She then became Head of Global Patient Experience for Abbvie. In these different contexts, she knows a lot about when to take a CCO job — but also when to leave one. I thought that would be interesting to discuss in a podcast. While this idea is a bit reduced at the executive level, we tend to have a “job-hopping stigma” in America somewhat. You can be viewed as wishy-washy or non-committal if you’re changing roles too much, so figuring out the best career transitions is crucial. That’s essentially what we walk through in this episode. Posting this right before Thanksgiving and the holidays was actually a smart play by my team (go us!), because this is the time of year people often take stock and try to set goals for 2017. If a career transition is one of your goals, definitely give this whole episode a listen.
Customers interface with suppliers across hundreds of touch-points. It takes customer centered leadership to make the vital touch-points work in harmony to deliver your brand promise and provide a seamless customer journey. This is critically important for any successful business.
My specialty is bringing the customer journey to life inside the enterprise, empowering employees and transforming the culture. I am passionate about engaging all stakeholders from the shop floor to the C-suite, to deliver excellent customer experiences.
Carol is extremely accomplished across a variety of customer-facing roles.
How To Know If You Can Take On A CCO Role
Carol had three key pieces of advice here:
- You’ve previously run a successful operation. Before Carol shifted up the chain at Dow Corning, for example, she had been managing a $400M section of the company.
- Your focus is on customer and employee experience. There are different types of potential executives. One aspect that unites all CCOs (that I’ve worked with) is this greater focus on experience, both internal (employee) and external (customer). It’s important to know data and numbers, obviously. But if you are a “Spreadsheet Mentality” type of executive without a corresponding focus on experience, being a successful CCO is tough.
- Deep roots. You’ll need deep roots and relationships in the company. You need to be seen as a trusted collaborator. Now, obviously this is a little bit different on a transition role or one where another company poaches you. We’ll get to that in the next section.
How Do You Ramp Up And Become A Successful CCO?
If it’s an internal promotion and you already have the relationships, that’s a good start. Not everyone is in that situation, however. Carol walked through four key stages of showing yourself as an exemplary member of the leadership team.
The first is clarity. We’ve talked about this on my site before, but a lot of western business, first-world work doesn’t have a strong sense of priority. Different silos are chasing different things and using different metrics. It becomes a clustered mess. You need to have clarity on what “customer experience” means and how that translates to scope of work. This is how you ultimately frame the work.
The second is vision. Sadly, this has become a little bit of a buzzword in some corporate circles. For Carol, this meant showing a clear path to other executives. She wanted to trace what companies relevant to Dow Corning were doing in terms of end-to-end customer experience. Remember: humans are visual and contextual learners, and it’s often important for us to see what competitors or rivals are doing. If you frame it up that way, it can be a clearer path.
The third is WIIFM, or “what’s in it for me.” Carol had to connect the dots for other leaders around their questions — and what the ultimate payoff for them, or their department, might be. We sometimes avoid this stage because it seems selfish to consider, but we absolutely cannot.
The fourth is pilot projects. You need to get out there and start showing accomplishments. It will involve some early adopter leaders and a few growing pains, but if you’re just organizing and talking for the first year, people will look at you and say, “What’s she actually been doing?” You need immediate, quick-hit, target-striking projects off the bat.
Why Would You Leave A CCO Role?
Leaving a job — especially a well-compensated executive role — is a very personal decision, and this podcast couldn’t possibly address every possible reason someone might leave a job. But Carol had a few thoughts of interest. Listen to the whole episode for the full context, but the basics include:
- Need to expand skills: This is actually why Carol ultimately left Dow Corning. She wanted to expand on the skills she had been developing in all her roles, but especially her final role, there.
- You’re a builder: You see this philosophy in Silicon Valley. Some men and women just like to build things, then leave to build another thing. Most CCOs I’ve worked with are inherently builders, so role transitions make sense.
- The work doesn’t “take:” This takes a lot of forms. Normally it means you’re not there on one-company leadership, and everyone else on the executive team is putting customer metrics into their own terms. The CEO is now seeing 10-11 sets of customer data; at that point, it’s very hard for the work to actually “take” and a role shift might be valuable.
- Change in direction: This happens with companies a lot. A new revenue stream is found, or at least drastically pursued. This shouldn’t ideally affect CCO work because you’ll still have some customers/stakeholders even with new revenue plays, but as we’ve all seen … it often does. If CCO work doesn’t fit into the power core anymore, it might be time to exit.
My “Pay-It Forward Question”
In short: “What do you know now that you WISH you knew back then, when you started?”
- Be discriminating. You need to understand the org structure. Where does the position sit? Who does it report to? Is it value-add to the other executives, or an also-ran job?
- Ride the wave: Companies move in cycles. They have different major problems at any given time. If you ride the wave to the right cycle and explain how customer experience will help solve that problem at that time, your career arc will take care of itself. Remember: many public companies are quarterly. They need solutions now. If you’re a person providing those solutions when they’re needed, you’ll do fine for yourself.