CIO: Your next Chief Customer Officer?


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More and more, CIOs are stepping out of the world of information technology and enterprise computing and right into the customer’s office.

This seems natural for companies like IBM where your customers also happen to be peers, but for the CIO of a retail brand, a pharma company or a bank, it was not the norm to spend much if any time with the customer. But this trend is on the rise. CIO Magazine recently interviewed several CIOs who are moving to customer facing roles and there is a strong argument in favor of this.

Today, customer experience and gaining deeper customer engagement wins the day for most businesses and as a result, CIOs who wish to retain their status at the boardroom table recognize the need to more deeply understand their customers in order to deliver technology solutions that will support and engender high value engagement. But this does bring with it a tension in the role. Is it really reasonable to expect that the individual who has to ensure that all systems are up and running, secure and fault tolerant can also engage in a dialog with the customer? How is it possible for one person to have this broad a purview?

These are questions that some CIOs who are not yet embracing this role are asking, but most are welcoming the step forward into understanding the external customer as well as they understand the internal customer. To do so effectively, many are partnering with the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), the head of sales and in some cases the CCO (Chief Customer Officer). “We are trying to get in front of the customer needs rather than reacting to the marketers and sales teams,” explained one CPG CIO. “The reality is that in some cases even the customer isn’t sure where to go next, but by being in the market and having these discussions directly, I can better affect the change that my CMO and CCO peers need.”

The strategic partnership with CCO, CMO and sales isn’t a new topic of discussion, but now more than ever these partnerships are actually happening. As a CMO from a retailer stated, “We’ve been talking about the partnership for a while, but it is now critical. We need to have the CIO in the room with us so we can really integrate the new and old systems to bring a better customer experience.”

In the course of our work at Farland Group, I get the opportunity to have in-depth discussions with hundreds of Global 500 CIOs each year. They don’t argue the need to spend more time with the customer, but they do often ask how others are achieving this goal. Here are three ways that CIOs are developing a deeper connection with their customers:

1. Strategic Account Visits: Many CIOs in B2B businesses are building strategies that give them access to strategic customer accounts. This ranges from partnering with the account team to a more deliberate, repeatable strategy of engagement like a customer advisory board.

2. Technology-led Co-Creation: The nature of the CIO role puts CIOs squarely in the driver’s seat of leading new engagement models with customers that are enabled by technology. One CIO that we work with partners with the CIOs of their most valued customers to co-create new engagement models and applications.

3. CIO on Loan: Finally, we’ve heard from CIOs who loan out their expertise to clients where they believe that they can partner to create a deeper relationship. For those larger companies that have small and mid-size clients, this can serve as a very valuable asset for select clients and it puts the CIO in a very strong relationship position with customers.

These and other approaches are putting the CIO in more of a leadership role with customers and positioning them as a valued contributor to the overall goal of developing stronger customer relationships for the business.


  1. Having seen these cross-responsibility partnerships grow and become more seamless over the past few years, definitely agree with the three trends you’ve articulated. Would add that the CIO’s ability to leverage multiple customer data streams to enhance experiences and value delivery is also a powerful resource.

  2. The CCO can be from any part of the business. CHRO, CIO, Chief of Manufacturing are not normally contenders because they are not considered line officers, and truly customer centric.
    In a company following Total Customer Value Management this problem is lessened or does not exist.
    To me a CCO is not the Chief complaint officer but really the person who is the Customer’s advocate in the company who gets others in the company to become customeric

  3. Thanks for your comments –
    Michael, I agree that data is a powerful resource and those CIOs that are capitalizing upon that and taking it further to monetization are really excelerating new experiences and revenue opportunty.

    Ian, I think that there are CIOs and CIOs, but our experience with them as a group (and we talk to more than 500 a year from global companies) is that CIOs understand CX and its importance and many can even articulate very well an ideal CX. A lot has changed even in the 7 months since your article.

    Gautam, increasingly companies are tying incentives to customer centricity and even the ‘non-line’ officers are stepping up.

  4. While I agree that positive customer experiences and deeper customer engagement are important for achieving revenue goals, I don’t believe that companies that simply “check the boxes” are destined to succeed. I know it’s overworn to say ‘the devil is in the details,’ but the devil is in the details.

    From my own graduate school experience in management information technology, I can attest that there’s an urgent push to move senior IT professionals away from primarily troubleshooting bluescreens and connectivity problems, and into developing and implementing corporate strategy. For many companies today, this makes complete sense – IT is deeply embedded in the value that organizations deliver to customers. And, after all, the C-something-O title bestows (or should bestow) responsibility for establishing strategy, along with accountability for it.

    But delineating the strategic turf between the CIO, CMO, CCO, and other CXO’s can be tricky. Where information is integral to ‘positive customer experiences’ and ‘deeper customer engagement’ (- though I’m unclear how you would precisely measure, let alone, describe these things), CIO’s can be involved. Should CIO’s meet with customers, and learn about their aspirations, frustrations, and concerns? I’d be the first to say, ‘well, it certainly can’t hurt!’

    Should drive these efforts? For me, that’s hard to answer, other than to say, ‘it depends . . . ‘


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