Agents of Change: The Rising Necessity of Today’s Chief Customer Officer

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Marketing and business journals today are full of the word “experience.” From employees to partners to customers, the call for seamless and positive interactions with stakeholders has prompted Accenture to christen our current environment an “Experience Renaissance.”

It’s a relatively new concept: just five years ago, only 65% of businesses employed a chief experience officer or chief customer officer (CCO) focused on their most important stakeholders: customers and clients. By 2020, Gartner had found that nearly all organizations (90%) listed the role in their executive ranks.

As organizations realize that it is easier to keep an existing customer than continually attract new ones,customer experience transforms from a single-purchase transaction to one prioritizing a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. The role of CCO plays an integral part in ensuring the brand understands how its consumers not only shop, but also live, work, and play. Delivering the right value to the right buyer in the right place at the right time, requires a deep understanding not only of customer-facing roles but also marketing, supply chain logistics, and the overall business ecosystem.

While there are any number of considerations a CCO must weigh, here are three key focus areas that should be top-of-mind for anyone in this role looking to drive organizational change and growth.

An Operational Focus

The CCO is typically charged with direct oversight of three parts of an organization: the professional services, customer support and customer success teams. In some organizations it might also encompass customer education and knowledge.

Each of these provides key insights into the collective voice of the customer (VoC), which encompasses data on customer wants and expectations, likes and dislikes, and challenges and expectations. Having a clear VoC helps the CCO work with other elements of the organization, to ensure each has the specific information needed to perform to the benefit of the business.

A successful CCO will also leverage this VoC data to better personalize the customer experience and strengthen loyalty by placing the customer at the center of the business. This can be a brand’s differentiator. That VoC data is captured through a customer’s touchpoints with your business, not your competitors, making it unique and thus highly valuable when analyzed and leveraged correctly. An Aberdeen Group report indicated that VoC has been shown to improve customer retention by up to 55%, decrease customer service costs 23% year-over-year, and increase revenue 48% year-over-year. Drilling into your VoC data will be your businesses’ secret weapon.

But VoC data is not valuable and if not used correctly, which is increasingly reliant on businesses being as tech-savvy as their customers. Consumers across the globe are turning to an array of digital channels to engage with companies, products and services. Failure to embrace their digital habits and meet your customers where they are with a unified, consistent experience can quickly lead to churn. A significant investment in your technology stack — especially in machine learning, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics — is crucial to meeting the increasingly high demands of digital-first customers and not the area to cut corners.

It’s Not Only About Customers

The pandemic strengthened the need for a CCO who ensured decisions were made in the best interest of the customer and company. How? By balancing the pandemic pivots that needed to occur, while being mindful of requirements for business sustainability. The CCO serves as the authority on all things customer-related and needs to understand them better than anyone else in the company. To do this, the CCO must understand the ins and outs of the customer lifecycle, how it can vary due to customer needs, why not all customers should be “weighed” or treated equally, and how to effectively segment and prioritize customers accordingly. The CCO must also understand key drivers of NPS influences as well as openly address and own any customer points of friction.

But, like any executive the CCO must also be a champion for the wider team. Especially when motivating customer-facing employees, positive reinforcement shared during coachable moments is far more conducive to a successful team than heavy-handed, fear-based leadership. The CCO must advocate for continuous “sharpening of the saw” — like self-directed educational resources, certifications and workshops — to keep the team sharp, and maintain positive morale, which shows through in customer interactions. Engaging team members in the success and growth of the team at large leads to overall success and sincere customer empathy.

A Learning-First Mentality

No matter how confident an executive might appear to the outside, doubt can be a constant and no one gets it right 100% of the time. Just as the CCO needs to cultivate a team environment in which failure is an option as long as it works toward a greater good, the willingness to admit mistakes can make a good leader great. Leading by this example, demonstrating they are willing to take big leaps in the advancement of the team’s goals can increase the team’s trust in the goals of the team and the CCO’s vision.

There is no better way to learn from mistakes than to listen. From colleagues, direct reports, and from customers themselves. A great CCO listens to each of these constituents and reflects and acts on the feedback provided. This can be especially impactful when soliciting new ideas from the customer success team: Studies have shown that when an employee feels heard, that person is 4x as likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of his or her abilities.
The CCO’s ultimate goal is to ensure the customer experience is a positive one that is also lucrative to both sides. Improving an organization’s CX can be one of the easiest ways to improve the bottom line. According to research, a 5% increase in the customer retention rate can lead to a more than 25% increase in profit.

As customer satisfaction and retention increasingly become key indicators of a company’s success today and outlook tomorrow, CCOs have become an indispensable part of the C-suite.

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